How Much History in Gen 1-3? (RJS)

This post is part 5 in a series on The Fall and Sin After Darwin. 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. Before continuing on to discuss the second half of Dr. Schneider’s article I would like to move over to discuss the article by C. John Collins, Professor Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis Missouri. In his article “Adam and Eve as Historical People, and Why It Matters” Dr. Collins makes a case for a historical understanding of Adam and the Fall and suggests scenarios that could be consistent with  an old earth and evolutionary biology. The historicity proposed by Dr. Collins stands in contrast to the literary understanding of Dr. Harlow, and his arguments will help frame some of the discussion of the Fall when we return to discuss the second part of Dr. Schneider’s article.

The arguments for Adam and Eve as historical people, first parents, through whom sin entered human experience are biblical and theological. Dr. Collins puts forth the position that the Fall is historical and uses this term as a shorthand:

To the extent that I use the terms myself, I employ them as a shorthand as well. I imply, not simply that humans are “sinful” (which is something we all can see), but that sinfulness was not part of our original make-up, and derives from some primal rebellion on the part of our first ancestors. (p. 148)

The Fall is a historical event, Genesis is history-like. While this does not mean that Genesis is “straight history,” there is a historical foundation.  Collins thinks that the author intended to convey history in literary form.

The author was talking about what he thought were actual events, using rhetorical and literary techniques to shape the readers’ attitudes toward those events. (p. 149)

The bottom line: while we may not have a historical account of the fall, we do have an account of a historical fall. (A turn of phrase borrowed from Henri Blocher.)

Do you think that there is a historical core to the story of Genesis 1-11? How important is this historical core?

In Dr. Collins’s article the concept of a historical fall, even if Genesis 2-3 is not a historical presentation of the fall,  is contrasted with  views often expressed where the author used imaginary history to convey timeless truths or story to convey theological and moral truths. There is an important distinction here – one that Collins fleshes out. The contact with ANE stories is significant, the author(s) used figurative language and forms of presentation familiar to readers of the day. But the intent is not fanciful presentation of timeless or moral truth.

Now, Genesis 1–11 has so many points of contact with Mesopotamian stories of origins, ancient kings, the flood, and subsequent kings, that we should find those stories as the proper literary backcloth against which the Genesis stories were written. Genesis 1–11 aims to provide the true pre- and protohistory of the Bible’s alternative worldview story, whose “purpose is to shape Israel’s view of God, the world, and mankind, and their place in it all.” (p. 150)

And after some discussion of various sources:

The conclusion to which this discussion leads us is this: If, as seems likely to me, the Mesopotamian origin and flood stories provide the context against which Genesis 1–11 are to be set, then they also provide us with clues on how to read this kind of literature. These stories include divine action, symbolism, and imaginative elements; the purpose of the stories is to lay the foundation for a worldview, without being taken in a “literalistic” fashion. We should nevertheless see the story as having what we might call a “historical core,” though we must be careful in discerning what that is. Genesis aims to tell the story of beginnings the right way. (p. 151)

The biblical story and the historical core of Genesis 1-11. Having framed the question in this fashion Dr. Collins turns to look at the nature of the biblical story that informs us of the historical core within Genesis 1-11. Genesis is not independent of the biblical story – and the story permeates all of scripture.  This is a story of creation, fall, redemption and the coming kingdom. Sin and rebellion from God form a core part of this story.

The story of Adam and Eve, and their first disobedience, explains how sin, the alien intruder, first came into human experience, though it hardly pretends to explain how rebellion against God (as expressed in the serpent’s speech) originated to begin with. (p. 155)

Collins discusses the image of God as expressing the truth that humans are special and that in some way there is a special creation, even if God’s created method used the evolution of primates to produce the vessel.  The key point, though, is that  sin is not part of humankind’s created constitution. Sin is an intrusive element that broke the relationships between humans and God, self, others, and the world. God’s action in the world, his covenant relationship with Abraham and Israel and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as Messiah are historical acts that address a historical problem.

So what elements does Collins suggest are required in an theologically sound scenario? He suggests that 40,000 years ago or 200,000 years ago there was some kind of special act that created humans in the image of God. The biblical chronology is not intended to be a chronologically accurate presentation without gaps. Some form of ‘polygenism’ in a small community is consistent, but we are all one people and are all part of the rebellion against God suffering from the consequences of broken relationships.  The death introduced by the fall was spiritual death – yet he feels that physical death was not the intended outcome for the original humans. “The spiritual death resulting from their disobedience ruined whatever process would have kept them alive.” (p. 159)

The four required elements according to Collins (p. 159-160):

1. To begin with, we should see that the origin of the human race goes beyond a merely natural process. This follows from how hard it is to get a human being, or, more theologically, how distinctive the image of God is.

2. We should see Adam and Eve at the headwaters of the human race. This follows from the unified experience of humankind, as discussed earlier (pp. 155–8). How else could all human beings come to bear God’s image?

3. The Fall, in whatever form it took, was both historical (it happened) and moral (it involved disobeying God), and occurred at the beginning of the human race. The universal sense of loss described earlier (pp. 155–8) makes no sense without this. Where else could this universality have come from?

4. If someone should decide that there were, in fact, more human beings than just Adam and Eve at the beginning of humankind, then, in order to maintain good sense, he or she should envision these humans as a single tribe. Adam would then be the chieftain of this tribe (preferably produced before the others), and Eve would be his wife. This tribe “fell” under the leadership of Adam and Eve. This follows from the notion of solidarity in a representative. Some may call this a form of “polygenesis,” but this is quite distinct from the more conventional, and unacceptable, kind.

This leaves a good bit of room for us to wrestle with the nature of Adam, Eve, and the Fall. The view expressed by C.S. Lewis in Ch. 5 of The Problem of Pain is an approach which includes all of these elements – the fall is historical, there was a real rebellion from God, and all humankind is involved. This is not the only possible scenario, nor is it necessarily the one that Dr. Collins prefers, but it is within the pale.  As I said on an earlier post on this topic, CS Lewis: Outside the Pale?, this kind of scenario is along the lines of my thinking these days, although other positions are also reasonable. I don’t find it a settled question in my own thinking.

Dr. Collins concludes where I think many of us will conclude. The Christian story makes sense of the world through the elements of good creation, Fall, redemption “as God’s ongoing work to restore creatures to their proper functioning“, and consummation.  If we deny that people have a common source or that sin is an alien intruder then we undermine this story and undermine the gospel.

This is not the last word on the subject – but is enough for today.

What do you think? Is there a historical core within the story of Gen. 1-11? Is this historical core an essential part of the Christian story?

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

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  • John I.

    Since all cultures preserve stories of origins, consider these stories to be important, and demonstrate the fact that oral traditions can be preserved for thousands of years, it seems probable that the same is true of the Genesis stories. Given that the Adam origin is important to the Son of God, and to the inspired Paul, it would seem that God took care to preserve a record of a historical event. Because the oral tradition would have started before there was any notion of history as we know it, and since oral histories are by and large not changed as they are handed down, what Moses, Paul and Jesus received was a literary recording of an oral tradition “history” formed in the manner that was used at the time of Adam’s children and essentially frozen.

    John I.

  • rjs

    John I,

    I don’t think that there is oral history in Gen 1-5 at all; probably not much in Gen 6-11. While there may be an oral connection to flood, the theological content is, I think, revealed. When we get to Abraham, the situation changes.

    The historical core in Gen 1-3 would be better described as revealed history. It explains the how and why of a situation.

  • ScottL

    What do you think? Is there a historical core within the story of Gen. 1-11? Is this historical core an essential part of the Christian story?

    As noted in this article, there is so much relationship between the Genesis account (chs. 1-11) with other ANE accounts of origins and early history that there must be solid basis for what we have in the early chapters of Genesis. This shows it was not just fantasized and imagined, but has basis in history, if not literalistic, still based in the ANE traditions of our beginnings. And the early chapters of Genesis are unique and distinguished from other ANE accounts as the inspired, God-breathed account that Yahweh brought about amongst His people, Israel.

    I appreciate this saying in the article: while we may not have a historical account of the fall, we do have an account of a historical fall.

    And I think this could be adapted with other elements of the early chapters of Genesis: while we may not have a [literalistic] historical account of X (creation, first human beings, etc), we do have an account of a historical X.

    Hope that makes sense.

  • TJJ

    The distinction of an non “historical” account of a historical Fall is interesting and credible.

    But yeah, the real diffuculty is the issue of how to have a real “historical” fall that is theologically meaningful in a scientice evolutionary understanding of the development of humankind. So difficult, that it is probably the primary reason many believers reject evolution.

    I think that “understanding/explaination” is still out there. I think it is out there, but I have not seen it yet.

  • Rick

    If we consider a “core” based in history, one such possibility/example may be the Flood. The event may not be what some have interpreted it to be, but the basis of a “core” flood appears to have some grounding in history.

  • Tim

    This scenario is somewhat similar to that laid out previously by Dopderbeck.

    Following my (long) debate on the viability of such a scenario with Dopderbeck, my main objection to this type of scenario boiled down to following:

    Evolutionary and anthropological findings depict the hominid ancestors of man as lustful, aggressive, selfish, etc. – in addition to being pro-social and altruistic, in part, of course. The evolutionary scenario here for inheritance of this nature is quite simple, we acquired these same characteristics from our hominid ancestors. In contrast, the “fall of man” scenario in Genesis posits a primordial rebellion against God and subsequent transformation from a pure human nature lacking in sin, to one that is attributes these same qualities of humanity being lustful, aggressive, selfish, etc.

    Here’s where I think the difficulty lies. It is both incredible and unnecessary to posit a nature that arose via evolutionary means to look so very much like our own lustful, aggressive, selfish, etc. nature in hominid ancestors leading right up to modern humans -> then have modern humans be granted innocence and purity in some form -> then have humans rebel against God and as a result have their nature transformed into exactly what basic hominid evolution would have produced!

    Doesn’t this seem just a little too incredible and unnecessary to anyone else?

    Also, don’t the numerous cues in the Genesis 2-3 story revealing strong and pervasive ancient near east parallels make a case that a historical look at Genesis is not exactly warranted (i.e., lady of the rib, perfect garden where eating forbidden fruit results in curse of death, humans being made out of clay, the snake, tree of life, etc.)?

  • Tim

    …last sentence of 3rd paragraph should be: “to one that has these same qualities of humanity being lustful, aggressive, selfish, etc.

  • smcknight


    What do you think happens to Israel’s system of sacrifice (for sins) or to the Christian gospel (salvation from sins) if one abandons a historical core to Genesis 1-3? I have my own thoughts on this, but I wonder what you’re thinking here. Is the Bible’s focus on sin off-base?

  • Tim


    Thanks for the question :)

    On issues of theology, I’m of course an amateur. So I hope if I put my foot in my mouth you’ll go easy on me :)

    In any case, I think that the idea of how sin separates us from God remains the same whether it arose through an original fall or through evolutionary means. In either case, we need something to solve the problem of sin and reconcile us to God.

    Where I do think things start to differ is on the whole Plan A / Plan B scenario.

    In the original sin scenario, all of the difficulties surrounding sin would have been God’s plan B. It wouldn’t have been what he originally wanted. So it would certainly make it easier to theologically reconcile all the worldly as well as soteriological difficulties facing mankind easier to deal with (as you could say none of it was God’s original intent).

    In the scenario that humanity simply inherited our nature that predisposes us to sin, this would have to be God’s Plan A. At least for a time. Perhaps you could say we’ve missed previous opportunities to reconcile, perhaps some previous covenantal relationship. But I don’t know what the Biblical basis for that would have been.

    In any event, however sin got here, I think that it does need to be dealt with. So Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and the OT sacrificial system would, to me, still make theological sense.

  • smcknight

    Tim, your conclusion is the big picture item we need to keep in mind: the message of the Bible, at one level, is that humans are sinners and in need of admitting it and reconciling with God, self, others and the world. Whether there was a historical fall or a historical account of the fall leads to the fundamental recognition in the Bible that Eikons are cracked (image bearers are messed up).

  • Tim

    Thanks for your comment Scot :)

    I think for me, I see God’s stamp on our image as less cracked and more just incomplete. I think we are meant for a closer relationship with God, and his image stamped on us represents a potential for that, a potential that has not yet been realized but that will be one day. I think this would be more compatible with an evolutionary inheritance of a sinful nature. Does this make any sense? And is this compatible with a Biblical point of view?

  • dopderbeck

    I think Collins’ approach is very helpful. It is very close to my thinking on all this. I would differ from Collins to the extent he seems to be insisting on some kind of special creation of Adam — although, if this is nuanced to mean simply the spark of “soul” (not in a substance dualist sense but in a real ontological sense) I probably would agree with that too.

    Re: Tim’s points — I don’t think any of this requires thinking of redemption as “Plan B.” I don’t think of it that way. If I were a Calvinist, I’d be a supralapsarian. Since I lean towards a sort of Barthian Reformed approach, I’d say Christ was the elect from before the foundation of the world — not Plan B at all. God’s entire and ultimately inscrutable plan for creation from eternity past encompased the knowledge that humans would sin, that the second person of the Trinity would become incarnate, and that the telos of the creation was the new creation.

    Does all this seem “a little incredible and unnecessary?” Sure — if you don’t start with the revelation of the Triune God in Jesus Christ and then build your epistemology from there. If you start with positivism, then anything that can’t be “falsified” will end up on the cutting room floor as incredible and unnecessary (in fact, I think you’ll end up nowhere, because positivism’s falsification criterion ends up not be useful for very much at all).

    Our primary data are the cross and the resurrection. From there, we move both backwards to our misty primal origins and forward to our eschatological future. The human condition is explainable only in Christ.

  • Tim


    “Does all this seem “a little incredible and unnecessary?” Sure — if you don’t start with the revelation of the Triune God in Jesus Christ and then build your epistemology from there.”

    I think you need to start with a little more than just the Triune God in Jesus Christ to get to a doctrine of an original fall of man. You would need to “start” with perhaps some of Paul’s theology, perhaps, in combination with the Genesis 2-3 story. There might be additional Biblical material as well. But I see no reason whatsoever why “starting” with the Triune God in Jesus Christ requires an original fall of man.

    “If you start with positivism, then anything that can’t be “falsified” will end up on the cutting room floor as incredible and unnecessary”

    I think that’s a caricature of my position. I’m not starting with positivism. I’m also not saying, “well, since you don’t have direct evidence for it, it can’t be the case.” I’m just saying that the nature purportedly generated by original sin is too COINCIDENTALLY similar to the nature we see evolving in hominid ancestors and in our closest evolutionary cousins to not be incredible. It’s not an “absence of evidence” scenario, so much as “too coincidental to seem reasonable” scenario.

    Also, given your idea of our scenario being God’s “Plan A” anyway, I don’t really see how you gain anything soteriologically by positing original sin. The only place I see this coming from is a commitment to a certain Biblical hermeneutic on your part. I don’t see it as specifically coming from a commitment to the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ specifically (though of course I’m sure you affirm this).

  • normbv

    Quote from article …“The key point, though, is that sin is not part of humankind’s created constitution. Sin is an intrusive element that broke the relationships between humans and God, self, others, and the world”

    I am going to disagree with the proposition that Adam was the first to sin. It appears from reading Paul in Romans that Sin was already in the world when Adam was “functionally created”. Adam was taken out of chaos and darkness (which is the epitome of sin) and put into “covenant Garden” status. This covenant status is what he fell from. Adam’s establishment mirrors Israel’s in a microcosmic manner and it goes back according to scripture and Jewish literature to around 4000 BC. In the Garden covenant Adam was given a law/commandment as was Israel and it was the breaking of this Law according to Paul which inferred “the sin”. There was not a physical or biological change in the nature of humanity, however there was the loss of covenant relationship with God, thus the removal from the Covenant Garden. This is evidenced by the manner that we today enter into the new covenant Garden in which there is no physical change but simply a change in status in which we come into relationship with God similar to Adam’s creative establishment. That is why the NT says we are new Creatures through Christ just as Adam was originally established in the Old order of things.

    One of the problems that I keep pointing out that those like Collins are making is trying to tie Adam’s creation into a biological creation of humanity at large being created in the Image of God. The Image of God as demonstrated by many modern scholars requires a covenant relationship to a King and his dominion (as established with Adam). In the Hebraic sense it is tied into the establishment of the eschatological fulfillment of the Temple: namely the established one at the messianic fulfillment of Christ. G. K. Beale makes a very strong case for the Image of God as it relates to the Jewish Temple establishment in his Book “The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God”.

    The Jews wrote using the ANE application of Temple theology in which many if not most of the ANE countries had some form of. The commonality with this approach is illustrated in the Gen 10-11 dispersion of the Nations in which each nation goes its own separate ways in an approach toward God. The story of Babel is a stylized rendition of the Jews describing what has brought about the various forms of religious worship by the nations. This is eventually countered in the NT in which those countries that scattered at Babel are regathered at Pentecost under the original religion that was lost: namely the calling on the one true God established at Gen 4:26.

    I think any attempt to apply biological and physical dimensions to an ANE theological rendition is simply mistaken. Genesis 1-11 has much in common with the ANE because they were part and parcel of that religious heritage. The Hebrew account is their own proprietary Temple creation language contrasted to the Temple creation and Heaven & Earth accounts of their neighbors. The history that is detailed is sparse but has a commonality with most of the ANE and binds Israel with them in a competing manner. According to Daniel 2 the heritage of the Nations are going to be broken asunder along with physical Israel at the coming of the messiah.

    Dan 2:34-35 ESV As you looked, A STONE WAS CUT OUT BY NO HUMAN HAND, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. (35) Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But THE STONE THAT STRUCK THE IMAGE BECAME A GREAT MOUNTAIN AND FILLED THE WHOLE EARTH.

  • John I.

    Re Oral History Behind Genesis

    I don’t think it beyond the pale to find oral tradition behind the stories in Genesis. Oral tradition behind both Hebrew poetry and prose has a long history of study and debate, even to present times.

    In the 18th century, for example, Johann Gottfried Herder argued for oral sources for early parts of the Old Testament (Douglas A. Knight. Rediscovering the Traditions of Israel. Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series, 9. Missoula: Scholars Press. 1973:57-58). A contemporary of Herder, Johann Christoph Nachtigal, proposed a post-Mosaic oral tradition of historical and prophetic material and argued that oral and written traditions emerged as literature only in the period of David (Knight, 1973: 61-63).

    Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932) accepted the general framework of Wellhausen’s documentary theory, and also believed that oral tradition had a significant in shaping the material which ultimately emerged as written documents. Gunkel distinguished the literature of ancient peoples from the literature of modern times, with the former being closer to folk literature. He used the term “Gattung” meaning “form” or “genre.” Gunkel argued that most of the basic genres of Israel’s literature were formed in an oral period when each had a specific setting in the life of the people, and that these ancient forms were retained and used in the eventual written documents.

    Martin Noth, in his “A History of Pentateuchal Traditions” set out the growth of the Hebrew tradition from its earliest oral and preliterary elements to the final form we now have in the Bible.

    H. S. Nyberg argued that tradition in the ancient near east was mainly oral and only on rare occasions purely written, that a period of oral tradition lay behind most written texts, and that even after inscription oral retelling continued to be the principal means of transmission of tradition.

    Eduard Nielsen, in “Oral Tradition” (1954) made comparative reviews of material from the ancient world for learning by heart, such as the Qur’an and the Rigveda. He argued that there was support for oral tradition in Mesopotamia. “Oral Tradition” also covers the interplay of oral and written traditions, the reduction of oral traditions to writing, and provides a list of the formal characteristics of oral tradition.

    W.F. Albright argued that the composition and transmission of literary works was oral and frequently without use of writing even in literate cultures. He also agreed that early Hebrew prose had a poetic background.

    In the seventies David M. Gunn argued that a tradition of oral narrative composition even lay behind the stories about King David.


    John I.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim (#13) — well, I think you have to explain the incarnation and the cross. Or better — you have to explore what the incarnation and the cross explain. This is an important theme in the proto-narrative theology of the early Fathers, for example Irenaeus’ Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, as well as in Patristic works supporting Nicene orthodoxy, particularly Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation”.

    You’re certainly correct that my hermeneutic of scripture (basically a narrative hermeneutic) deeply informs my views. But you’re wrong if you think I’m proof-texting.

    What is “gained” soteriologically is that the incarnation and the cross have a purpose and make sense of human experience. The fact that God knew from eternity past that sin would enter the creation and elected Christ as the agent of redemption “before the foundation of the world” doesn’t elide the “need” for the cross — not at all.

    God created a world in which some creatures (humans) would possess moral freedom. He knew from eternity past that this would result in abuse of that freedom and also provided for the redemption of that abuse through the election of Christ as redeemer.

    Why did God bother? Love. Giving life to an “other” that is free is an act of love. Is it consistent with love to create an “other” that will suffer because of its own free choices, even if redemption is also provided? That is an enormous theodicy question, isn’t it? Something to think about here: if you’re a parent, you’ve brought a child into the world knowing that the child would inevitably face suffering, loss, disappointment, and death. Was giving birth to that child an act of love or an act of evil?

  • rjs

    John I,

    I wasn’t debating oral history in general and the role it almost certainly played in transmission of portions of the OT. The stories about King David, even Abraham, Joseph, and the Exodus – there may be a strong role for oral history, in fact I think there is a strong role for oral history.

    I was specifically commenting on Gen 1-5. I don’t see oral history as a significant contribution on any level to Gen 1-3; and not really for Gen 4-5 either. The nature and setting for the stories don’t seem to lend any support for the idea. How would you see oral history in these specific stories?

  • Tim


    I don’t think you’re tracking with my argument. I also never accused you of proof-texting (seriously, where did you get that idea?).

    I think the incarnation and the cross can be equally applied as providing a path of guiding (through Jesus’ teachings and, if you like, the apostolic teachings afterward fleshing that out) and transforming (through the blood of Christ) man’s ability to enter into a relationship with God, thus resolving the problem of separation from God as affected by sin, for either of the two scenarios of

    1) humans having free will (as imparted by God) and an imperfect nature (as imparted by evolution and, subsequently, provides the grounds for exercising one’s free will in choosing between God and ungodly proclivities) according to God’s plan to create through evolution, though man is still bound by the chains of sin, of course, and needs divine grace to break those bonds in entering a relationship with God


    2) humans having free will (as imparted by God) and an imperfect nature (as resultant from a fall from grace) according to God’s plan (whether Plan A or Plan B, doesn’t matter in this narrow context), thus resulting in man being bound by the chains of sin and needing divine grace to break those bonds in entering a relationship with God

    Or, put put it in far simpler terms:

    1) God applies grace to humanity through the cross to fix something that once was whole, then broken


    2) God applies grace to humanity through the cross to fix something that was never whole to start with.

    So, I fail to see how Jesus’ incarnation and sacrifice at the cross in any way necessitate a doctrine of the fall of man.

  • rjs


    When does a behavior become sin? When do terms like “moral” and “immoral” begin to make sense in anything other than a purely utilitarian fashion?

    There are rudiments of all kinds of behavior in the animal kingdom – from kin support and actions that appear altruistic, to lust, killing, infanticide, ambush, and so on. But I don’t think we can assign the word sin to such behavior.

    I don’t think that the presence of such among other primate or mammalian species speak to the idea of sin because I don’t see how to define morality outside of “human” community. Sin comes only when there is a defined command and a knowing violation of “moral law” whatever we may mean here.

    I can certainly see an argument for a historical Fall that involved intentional and knowing violation of the commands of God. This doesn’t deny the evolutionary creation or common descent.

  • Tim


    Behavior becomes a sin when you reject God’s directives for your own. Your own directives, as I see them, are evolutionarily inherited. I don’t see why this matters whether coming from an evolutionary basis or an original fall basis. Regardless of how they got there, they’re there.

    In any case, I have never once argued that any animal outside of humanity is sinful. So I am not arguing for an inheritance of sin. I am arguing for an inheritance of proclivities that are not harmonious with God’s directives. At some point, God instilled in humanity a conscience and some knowledge of him, some stamp on our hearts. At that point, following our own nature in conflict to God’s directives became sin.

    Does this answer your question? I look forward to your feedback RJS.

  • DRT

    First, my position. I don’t believe there is any real evidence for a real Adam and I don’t see any need for original sin as a concept. I do agree with Tim (and Scot) that all people sin and we need to be reconciled to God somehow.

    The early Genesis story basically has no historical content in it or the historical validity of the content is suspect enough that we should not hang our hats on it. As far as the need for a fall, there is a need. Presumable we were not sinning as pond scum, but we are as humans. We fell at some point in time. But ANE people would not get a whole lot of value out of that story so the Genesis story makes much more sense.

    I also think the word sin is suspect in this. I am not positive about this, but I thought the ANE concept was more one of missing the mark. In this sense I am with rjs in the assertion that there all kinds of behaviors in the animal kingdom that would be sin if people did them but they are right on the mark for the animals. They are living up to the mark of what they are.

    In summary, I think the fall is necessary to explain why our behaviors can miss the mark and depend on context. The knowledge of good and evil is not action based but motivation based.

  • DRT

    In looking at my post again it seems I need to clear one thing. Original sin is not needed, in my view, but it is definite that humans sin, therefore a fall did happen.

  • Tim


    I agree that, in a sense, a “fall” did happen. But that fall would have coincided with when man was first imparted with the stamp of God. It doesn’t look as if our evolutionarily inherited proclitivities ever went away, so when we were given the knowledge of what goodness is, of what God wanted, it probably didn’t take but a second for someone, somewhere to capitulate into their baser nature and say “thank you but no, I’d much rather indulge my own urges for lust/aggression/greed/etc.”

    So really, in this scenario, all humanity would “fall,” and we will keep on “falling” until we are fully reconciled to God.

    What are your thoughts on this view DRT?

  • John I.

    More on Oral Tradition in Genesis 1 – 11

    It seems that literary works served, in the ANE to support and correct the memorization of important stories, such as the Gilgamesh story. Hence, it is not only likely that the creation and flood stories were oral traditions and reduced to writing as a way of teaching the correct oral tradition, but it is also likely that the Israelites did use the Gilgamesh and other ANE stories in composing their own creation, etc. stories. In this regard, David Carr is quoted below:

    “In particular, Mesopotamian education is distinguished
    from other forms of education by its predominant use of clay tablet technology, unusually intensive use of educational lists, and the fairly wide variety of genres of texts used later in education. Though Egypt, Israel, and Greece each used lists to a limited extent, especially in early stages of education, Mesopotamian education—as documented in particular through “type 2” tablets that combined successive educational exercises on the same artifact—featured a massive series of lists of cuneiform signs and words at the outset of the educational process,
    before students progressed to what we might call “wisdom works” and then on to love songs, myths, and so on.3 Notably, these lists were among the most prominent parts of Mesopotamian education as it was practiced outside Mesopotamia in the second millennium. During that period
    we find remnants of such lists in Egypt, Syro-Canaan, Hatti, Elam, and various other loci across the Near East.4 In addition, such examples of “peripheral” cuneiform education appear to have focused on a limited group of more advanced literary texts, the Epic of Gilgamesh being among the most prominent. A variety of archaeological finds show that such cuneiform education occurred in city-states of ancient Canaan just before the emergence of ancient Israel, a training that insured the internalization of Mesopotamian lists and portions of works such as Gilgamesh by officials in towns such as Jerusalem (Horowitz, Oshima, et al. 2002).”

    David Carr,”Torah on the Heart: Literary Jewish Textuality Within Its Ancient Near Eastern Context”, Oral Tradition, 25/1 (2010): 17-40

  • John I.

    DRT’s comments along the line of “The early Genesis story basically has no historical content in it or the historical validity of the content is suspect enough that we should not hang our hats on it” have not been adequately grounded. Before we can come to a conclusion that there is little if any historical validity in Gen. 1 – 11, we need to understand more fully the creation of those traditions and stories.

    John I.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim (#18) – good point. Starting with the cross tells us that something is very wrong, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us why things are wrong. But, I said the incarnation and the cross.

    This is the point of Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation,” and it was a central issue at Nicea: why did God become man? God became man because “sin” is man’s fault, not God’s. Atonement had to be made by man because man is responsible for sin. And atonement had to be made by God, because God, who is not responsible for sin, is the only one worthy of making atonement.

    Thus the two natures of Christ — God and Man — are vital to hold together. Christ cannot be a subordinate or created being because to make atonement he must be fully God. And as later confirmed at Chalcedon, Jesus also had to be fully human in order to make atonement for man.

    If you say that “sin” is only the result of natural evolution, you are effectively saying God is responsible for sin, rather than man (“Adam”). The incarnation, however, is one important means of showing that this cannot be so. It’s true that other doctrines negate this claim as well, particularly the nature of God as being without sin or evil. But the incarnation and the cross show us that something is very wrong, and further that what is very wrong is our (humanity’s) responsibility.

    I don’t understand why you think it’s so important to reduce “sin” to natural evolution alone. All but very hard-core sociobiologists acknowledge human beings possess the capacity for true agency. We, perhaps alone of all the species on the earth, are able to make decisions that supercede our evolutionary inclinations. This truth, in fact, is at the core even of Richard Dawkins’ effort to construct normative ethics.

    Sin is by defintion a violitional act, and a volitional act is by definition more than merely a deterministic effect of evolutionary causes.

  • rjs

    John I,

    What is your point? – you quote many things that are totally off topic, or seem so to me. What is the connection with this post and the Genesis story as a historical description of the Fall?

    That there is oral tradition before the written text – sure no problem.

    That there is a movement into events with historical core in Gen – again no problem.

    That Gen 1-3 is a historical description preserved by oral tradition. I don’t buy it on any level.

    That Gen 4 is a historical story involving the first two offspring of Adam and Eve – I also don’t buy it.

    I don’t think it is necessary theologically or supported by the text in the context of ANE studies (not to mention science).

  • Tim


    To clear something up first, “If you say that “sin” is only the result of natural evolution, you are effectively saying God is responsible for sin, rather than man (“Adam”).” I never said this. I said our base nature is evolutionarily inherited, and it becomes sin when we follow it as opposed to God’s directives.

    Concerning your other points, I will respond to them but first, so as not to make this completely just a you-and-I back-and-forth debate again, I’d like to welcome other people into the conversation.

    Scot, RJS, and any others who want to comment, what do you think of Dopderbeck’s argument for there HAVING TO BE an original fall in human history from a sinless nature:

    “why did God become man? God became man because “sin” is man’s fault, not God’s. Atonement had to be made by man because man is responsible for sin. And atonement had to be made by God, because God, who is not responsible for sin, is the only one worthy of making atonement.”

    So what are your thoughts Scot, RJS, or any others who would like to offer their views on this discussion?

  • Tim

    …correction, should be:

    “Scot, RJS, and any others who want to comment, what do you think of Dopderbeck’s argument for there HAVING TO BE an original fall in human history from a PERFECT nature”

    Obviously, from my standpoint of evolutionarily inherited proclivities there would have been some small lapse between when man was first imparted with God the stamp of God and when the first human sinned – even if only lasting for a second.

  • Jeff Doles

    RJS, is there anything in Genesis 1-11 you take as historical? In another thread, you seemed to indicate that maybe Terah (father of Abram) was historical, but were pretty ambivalent about it. If you take Terah as historical, then how about his father, Nahor? OTOH, if you do not take Terah as historical, do you take Abram as historical? If so, then why not accept the statement that Terah begot Abram? And if you take Genesis 12-50 as historical (if you do take it as such), then how do you determine where mythical (or whatever you might call it) material ends and historical material begins?

  • “Moruti” Lutz

    a few questions come to mind:

    1) so far I have not seen any discussions here on how to define “historic”:
    a) ” something that has happend”
    b) ” something that has happend” + “documentary evidence thereof exists”
    c) yet something else…

    2) In absence of a clear definition, it seems that by default “history” or “historic” is used in its current meaning, which has its root a couple of hundred years ago (Kant, Fichte, Herder, Hegel and so on). Is it not, then an anacronism to project our understanding of “historic” e.g. on Paul? If, for example, we could travel back in time to debate with Paul and we would ask him to define “historic” versus “mythological” (or “History” vs “mythology”) – which in our modern understanding have become almost mutually exclusive – would we not find a much more “complementary” view (i.e. history and mythology being two aspects of the same reality we find ourselves in?

    3) Assuming constructs as presented above, I see one problem: who exactly fell? All primates? Or, what coincidence, exactly that line which lead to modern homo sapiens? Or is it not a coincidence after all: could one even say: exactly that, which we call the “fall” was the evolutionary step which made that particular species differnt from all others?

    4) Taking all this into consideration, would it not even make sense – both scientifically and theologically – to interprete the “Fall” slightly different: since “sin” requires moral agency and self-reflection (in other words, a conscious mind), would it not make much more sense to speak of a “consciousnes of sin” which must have a beginning at some point (or periode) in time? Then “fall” is not so much “when humankind became evil” but “when huankind became aware of evil” (and from there it is not to far back straight to Gen 3: “knowledge of good and evil”, “who told you that you were naked” etc)

  • rjs


    David is bringing up key issues worth some serious discussion. His points, while I may not agree across the board, are ones I take seriously. I haven’t jumped in much yet due to time constraint – but the discussion was already on my agenda.

    These are questions I will return to in the next two posts in this series – “Did God Create Us Sinful?” (scheduled for Thursday assuming I finish the post) and “Why Did Jesus Die?” (tentatively titled and scheduled for next week). The questions are core to the arguments in Collins’s article and in Schneider’s article.

  • DRT

    John I – I had a get out of jail free card encoded in the statement “The early Genesis story basically has no historical content in it or the historical validity of the content is suspect enough that we should not hang our hats on it”

    I said “early Genesis” and that certainly means Chapters 1-3, and more but a squishy amount more to allow for further grounding as you assert.

  • DRT

    Tim@23 – Argeed. However, I hold to a view that the development from one species to another is a long gray period and in that sense there may have been starts and stops to sinning. Just saying we would have to allow for that or would have to allow for God making an intervention that would preclude starts and stops to falling.

  • John I.

    re rjs #27 on oral tradition:

    While you may not buy, on any level, an oral tradition behind Genesis 1 – 3, many others (including me) do. In fact, scholars who specialize in the study of oral tradition (which neither you nor I are), believe that there is more probably than not oral tradition behind Genesis 1 – 3. Since we, in this thread, are not engaging in a discussion of the validity of their conclusions, the weight of authority is with them and thus onus is on you to prove that they are wrong.

    The significance of oral tradition relates to whether there is historical truth behind the stories in Genesis 1 -3, and the nature of that truth. It seems rather obvious that we need to understand this in order to relate it to truths arrived at from science–such as Darwinian evolution.

    In your lead post you cite two different authors (Collins and Harlow) who have different views on the historicity of Adam and Eve and whether it matters. You make the direct point that “The historicity proposed by Dr. Collins stands in contrast to the literary understanding of Dr. Harlow”. So, should we understand Genesis in a literary manner? and if so, how and to what extent? Such issues are addressed directly by understanding the nature and development of Israelite tradition.

    I would argue that posts along such lines–because they can be scientifically investigated and because they relate directly to the historicity (or not) and literary nature of the Gen. 1 – 3 tradition–are more relevant than unprovable speculation about whether pre-Adamic hominids had a moral sense.

    John I.

  • Tim


    I agree that there was likely oral tradition behind not just the Genesis 1-3 account, but to most any ANE account as well. But you tell me where the historical basis is to Enkidu, and I’ll tell you where the historical basis is to Eve :)

    Oral tradition can just as easily arise over human storytelling arising from little if any historical basis as it can from human storytelling arising over something that has an actual historical basis. There is legend, and there is myth. Looking at Genesis 1-3, I don’t see how an argument can be made that it is more legend with a historical kernel of truth regarding Adam & Eve than myth that has no historical kernel.

  • rjs


    With broad brush strokes, Genesis changes form at chapter 12 from a collection of etiological stories similar in form to contemporary ANE myths to a story relating the specific interaction of God with a chosen people to set the world to rights.

    So – I think that Genesis 12 moves into to a localized story with a strong historicity even if there are issues of cultural form in the way the story is told. The oral tradition arguments advanced by John I are certainly at play. But I still don’t think that it is all a literal historical report. (Compare Gen 21 and Gen 26 for example.)

  • dopderbeck

    Tim — and before anyone else jumps in:

    (1) I did not say there “HA[S] TO BE” an “original fall in human history”; and (2) I did not say human nature prior to the fall was “PERFECT.”

    It’s possible to understand the “fall” as a metaphor for every person’s struggle with sin. That is the standard neo-orthodox move. I don’t think it ultimately works, but it’s possible. It’s also possible, as Moruti (#31) suggests, to think of the fall as a “fall upwards” — the dawning of a conscious realization of a separated state. Many people make this move as well, but I personally also don’t think it ultimately works, because “sin” is invasive, not normal, and to sin is to choose, not merely to become aware of existing circumstances. IMHO, therefore, a “historical” fall or first primordial human turning away from God is the best explanation of all the factors we have to consider.

    Re: “perfection” — I do not think humans were “perfect” before they first sinned, if by that you mean some sort of Platonic ideal of a physical, cognitive, or emotional superman. I think humans were “without sin” before they first sinned — but that must be true, unless “sin” is inherent in our created nature, and therefore not really “sin.”

    Being without sin, I think humans before sin possessed capacities that we do not — the capacity for perfect love and fellowship with God, each other, and creation. It seems both from the Biblical stories and the record of natural history that humans never realized those capacities — from the primoridial past, we sinned.

  • Tim


    Given RJS’s upcoming post expected around Thursday, “Did God Create Us Sinful?”, deals directly with the issues you’ve brought to bear on the doctrine of an original fall of man, I propose we hold off on continuing our discussion until that time. I look forward to conversing with you again on this topic once RJS gets that post up.

  • John I.

    Re Jeff at 30

    Nothing in Genesis 1 – 11 (at least) is history as we know it, which (as “Moruti” Lutz pointed out in #31) is a recent invention. Furthermore there was a freedom to revise traditions in a manner that was still considered to be faithful to those traditions.

    The existence of comparable traditions (Gilgamesh, etc.) indicates that all such traditions–including Israel’s–were of the same ilk and thus not “history” in either the contemporary sense or in the sense of the four books of Kings (1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings). Moreover, the traditions were not passed on for the sake of history–the way we do–but for sacred purposes. Making a true sacred point for the teaching of the nation using what they understood to be “true” traditions is an entirely different matter from investigating WWII documents to understand what happened during the invasion of Normandy (and then writing a book to be bought by those interested in reading “history”).

    If that is the case, and if Darwinian evolution is true, then it becomes open to imaginings like DRT’s and then investigating both the texts themselves and scientific knowledge to determine if such an imagining is plausible (I don’t buy it, but DRT might still convince me).

    John I.

  • rjs

    John I,

    An oral tradition behind Genesis 1-11 – sure. An oral transmitted history? That is a totally different question.

    Read the post again (or better yet Dr. Collins’s article). While he argues for historicity – the kind of historicity he argues for is quite different, it seems to me, from that you argue for. The historicity he argues for isn’t defended by postulating an oral tradition that dates from Adam to the writing of Genesis. The historicity does not even require Adam to be one unique individual (although he does not rule out the possibility).

  • normbv


    I have already responded with what I call a biblical and ANE viewpoint in #14. No one contested or commented on my points so I assume it must have carried the day. 😉

    I don’t believe the Jews argued from nor were they equipped to concerning a metaphysical, philosophical or anthropological reasoning. Basically they appear to just deal with the condition of man in his natural state of being in their own proprietary ANE context.

    Our biblical discussions are essentially limited by the Jewish approach but of course we in our day and age can delve into these other investigations as we desire. We just need to recognize that our philosophical extrapolations may have limited bearing upon their ANE Hebraic worldview of humanity as a covenant established people.

  • John I.

    Re Tim at #36: “But you tell me where the historical basis is to Enkidu, and I’ll tell you where the historical basis is to Eve ”

    The difference between Eve and Enkidu is at least twofold, and both very significant: (1) we have a several thousand year tradition that Eve actually existed as a physical person and progenitor of us, and (2) we also have a 2 thousand year old tradition that the historicity of Eve is important to understanding what Jesus Christ accomplished and, moreover, to what Jesus Christ did in fact accomplish. In regard to those two factors, the Enkidu story is not even remotely relevant.

    Those two factors alone put the onus on those who don’t believe in the historicity of Eve to produce convincing evidence and argumentation that she did not.

    The Enkidu story is relevant, however, in understanding how tradition developed and was transmitted because that sheds light on the Israelite traditions, and their perception of its historicity and significance–and thus ultimately for our understanding of its significance in terms of our own issue of contemporary historicity.

    John I.

  • John I.

    Re Normbv in #14.

    I agree with Norm’s point about the importance of the concept of the image of God and covenant in relation to understanding sin.

    Given that linguistic research indicates the existence of various separate languages long before the alleged time of Babel, it is evident that Babel is not a “history” of the creation of the world’s languages. It is more likely, as Norm indicates, that “The story of Babel is a stylized rendition of the Jews describing what has brought about the various forms of religious worship by the nations.”

    John I.

  • Tim


    I don’t consider the argument that the Christian tradition lasted more centuries after-the-fact than the Sumerian & Babylonian traditions did to be a convincing argument of the historicity of, well, anything really. It just means they’ve lasted longer. By your logic then, should we be following Ptolemaic astronomy because it’s been around longer than our modern heliocentric astronomy? In any event, just as Ptolemaic astronomy gave rise to heliocentric astronomy, I think one could make the argument that Biblical Scholars now might be on the cusp of starting to suspect any historical value to the Genesis 1-3 account (in fact, many already have come out publicly in doing so).

  • Tim

    Normvb (42),

    I did see your post #14, and (if I understood it correctly) I think I agree with a good portion of it. Cheers :)

  • Tim

    Normbv (Continued Response),

    Wanted to clarify the above (#46) that I am not of course accepting the historicity of Adam & Eve. I think that’s speculative given the heavy ANE myth flavor of Genesis 1-3. But I do agree that if Adam ever did exist, the mechanism you laid out concerning a covenantal relationship is not one that runs afoul of anthropological and evolutionary findings regarding what we would expect concerning our inherited predispositions as humans.

  • John I.

    Re rjs at #41 and oral tradition: “The historicity he argues for isn’t defended by postulating an oral tradition that dates from Adam to the writing of Genesis.”

    To clarify my comments, I’ll indicate that I am not arguing or postulating that there is necessarily an accurate oral tradition from Adam to the writing of Genesis (as indicated, though not clearly, by my comment that the Israelites adopted parts of ANE traditions such as Gilgamesh). However, it is by no means obvious that some sort of tradition could not have come from Adam and be the basis behind the variant ANE traditions.

    What is important, I argue, is to determine what God wants us to understand as true from Gen. 1 – 11. To determine what God wants us (in the 21st century) to understand as true from that literature we have to understand that literature on God’s terms. Does the nature of the literature, the tradition, demand that we believe in an historic Eve? I suggest that it does not necessarily demand that we do, for reasons related to the nature of ANE traditions (creation, development, transmission, use, etc.).

    If it does not–and we must make the argument in order to oppose the YEC understanding of such tradition as a contempory type of history–then we are freer to engage in relating that literature to Darwinian evolution (e.g., postulating no actual Adam).

    If, on the other hand, the tradition understood on its own terms (i.e., on God’s terms) does demand an historical Eve, then we must relate that fact to evolution. Certainly Darwinian evolution does not a priori eliminate the possibility of an historic Eve and, moreover, a God who miraculously raises Jesus (the second Adam) from the grave might also have miraculously created an original Adam (and Eve) from whom we are all descended.

    As Leegwater writes in his introductory editorial to the ASA Journal, “What should we make of all the diverse anthropological evidence collected from several continents as well as the recently acquired detailed genomic data? Should we sweep it under the rug, considering it to be the result of a shameful misguided investigation, since it assumes a view that calls into question the “plain straightforward reading of Scripture”?

    Well, how do we read Genesis 1 – 11? That’s what I’m driving at. There is considerable evidence, contra Jeff Doles, that Israelite tradition was treated the same by them as other ANE peoples treated their traditions. Furthermore, it was largely oral, not only in origin, but also at the same time as it was being transmitted in writing. Indeed, the oral tradition continued to affect and shape the written. That is, there is significant evidence that traditions were largely “frozen” at the time of the invention of writing. Writing served as means of teaching the correct memorization and retelling of traditions, and so reduced the amount of wholesale change possible but it did not prevent all change.

    What I argue, therefore, is that none of Genesis 1 – 11 is direct revelation from God at all, but the God shaped transmission of tradition that predates writing, but which after writing remained largely intact.

    Finally, though I don’t see it as essential, I don’t see any a priori reason why a tradition cannot have come from Adam.

    John I.

  • DRT

    dopderbeck@38 (and Tim’s follow up)

    dopderbeck said ““sin” is invasive, not normal”

    I have to get off the boat at that and I agree with Tim that that conversation will fit best in the next thread. In short, I believe sin is normal in our reality. That will be a great conversation.

  • rjs

    Thanks John,

    That helps me put your various comments into a context much better.

  • John I.

    RE Tim at #45

    The difference is that our two thousand years of normative tradition comes from people indwelt by the same Holy Spirit who indwells us and who were teaching and passing on truth that they obtained from the Word of God and the illumination of the indwelling Spirit. It is this normative tradition that we have received. If one is going to argue that they are wrong from within the tradition, then the onus is on that person to provide evidence and argument to overturn the spiritually guided tradition.

    Of course, if one is outside the tradition (e.g., and atheist, a Hindu, etc.), then such tradition is irrelevant. I was assuming that all commentors in this blog worked from within some variant of this tradition.

    John I.

  • normbv

    Concerning Babel.

    I believe that the word that is used in Gen 11:1 that is often translated “speech”, “language” or “lip” does not refer essentially to language, but to religious belief. Notice how the word is used to denote people turning to the “pure lip” at the gathering of the Nations. This is predictive of Pentecost and the outpouring of the spirit. Isa uses it in a similar context as well.

    Zep 3:9 YLT For then do I turn unto peoples a pure lip, To call all of them by the name of Jehovah, To serve Him with one shoulder.

    Isa 6:5 YLT And I say, `Woe to me, for I have been silent, For a man–UNCLEAN OF LIPS am I, And in midst OF A PEOPLE UNCLEAN OF LIPS I am dwelling, Because the King, Jehovah of Hosts, have my eyes seen.’

    If we now look at Gen 11:1 we can see that in the Jewish mind they were describing their ancient world as of one accord historically and it became divided at Babel with Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia and other nations developing what the Jews called a pagan and idolatrous Heaven and Earth that was false.

    Gen 11:1 ASV And the whole earth was of one language [LIP] and of one speech.

    The polemic against that perversion of the nations in the way to acknowledge God is the setting of Gen 1-11 and essentially sets the ground work for the rest of the story of the Bible. If indeed Genesis was compiled somewhere toward the end of the first Temple period this mindset of encountering the nations in exile would have greatly influence the writing of this section of Genesis. This should have bearing upon how we are to further understand the earlier sections of Gen such as the Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel stories. They should be viewed from the mindset of the period of time that Genesis was compiled. If that is not taken into consideration then we are probably speculating much more than we should.

  • DRT

    normbv@14, I liked your post :)

  • normbv


    I consider Adam historically a double edged sword. The story is apparently a microcosm of Israel there is no doubt. The history that I still am hanging on to is what I mentioned the other day. I believe Adam is a central figure from the ANE that all of the surrounding nations were aware of historically. They all developed their own particular associated stories to embellish this ancient historical figure in some form or fashion. What I still want to hang onto is that this individual was indeed the first man that had some form of covenant awareness with YHWH the God of Israel. I believe that this idea can stand up as a historic possibility and I trust Paul in this. 😉 Now when it gets to Eve I believe she the woman who as the wife of Adam represents the corporate body of Israel. We see this with the analogy of the body of Christ also being equated with the woman as the bride or in Revelation as the woman fleeing the dragon. If we recognize and accept Genesis literature in this vein then things start to percolate.

  • Tim

    John (51),

    I don’t think the 2,000 year old Christian NT tradition and the older OT tradition represent the kind of theological precision you seem to be relying on. I don’t think just because one ascribes to the idea of Jesus as Christ as revealed in the Bible, that they then have are in some way beholden in accepting your argument.

    Look at the New Perspective on Paul. That flies in the face of much of Protestant tradition’s depiction of his theology based on a heavily Augustinian interpretation of Scripture. And the Protestant tradition conflicted in many areas with the Catholic tradition that preceded it. And the Catholic tradition conflicted in some areas with the early Church traditions that preceded it as well.
    Even at the time of Jesus, we have different Jewish traditions conflicting with each other.

    During the time the OT (and its source material) was being authored, we see conflict between traditions there as well. Different OT authors would make different arguments that were in tension with each other.

    So I see far too much variability in the Christian tradition for your argument to really hold water.

  • John I.

    RE rjs @ #50

    Sorry that my thoughts weren’t originally clearer, but you raise interesting points and my thinking was worked out and shaped, in part, by writing it. I hope I didn’t come across as too blunt, but I’m trying to be short, and consequently, more direct.

    I don’t think that the Bible at all requires a belief that God gave a direct revelation of Genesis 1 – 11 (either by vision or dictation). There is no indication of such revelation. What the Bible does show, is a set of traditions, both oral and written, contemporaneous with other such ANE traditions. That fact in and of itself is an important clue, in addition to Collin’s discussion of world view story, etc., that we cannot take those (Bible) traditions as revealed 21st century historiological style truth.

    If humans as eikons / images of God, are 40,000 years old then what do we do about traditions formed and created and modified and transmitted in the manner of other ANE traditions? It seems apparent from the form and means and not just the content that the Biblical tradition is indistinguishable from other ANE traditions (except that the names were changed to protect the innocent :-) ). If not distinguishable, then it is unlikely that God dictated a new tradition to contradict the surrounding ones, but rather that he used what traditions existed in the people he chose and shaped the traditions through that people.

    Is it not possible that Abraham, who lived in an era of oral and written tradition, chose those traditions that reflected his own experience of God and then further shaped them to more accurately reflect that experience?

    It also seems more probable that God chose a man because of his actual and potential faith rather than because that man belonged to a people group who had preserved the correct tradition from Adam.

    Bye for now,

    John I.

  • dopderbeck

    DRT (#49) — sin is “normal in our reality” — of course — but the reality we experience is one that is pervasively invaded by sin. Throughout the New Testament, particularly in Paul’s theology, sin is seen as a power that holds us in bondage. Sin is not part of our nature as God created it. It is a corruption of our nature caused by our own will and rooted in our primordial turn from God.

    Honestly, I don’t think there’s any reasonable reading of scripture and the Tradition without this theme of sin as a foreign, hostile, invasive corruption. If evolution must be understood to eliminate this theme, then we have a genuine conflict between Christian faith and science. No one has persuaded me, however, that evolution must be understood this way.

  • DRT

    I have a question to those who consider there to be historicity in Gen 1-3 at some level.

    Why do you consider the default position to be that there is historical elements there rather than have the default position that there are not historical elements there? When I look at the text I see two different stories and a talking snake. I feel that God would think we are missing the mark if our defaut position is that it is historical.

    I realize that one answer to the question is because it seems that Paul treated it that way, but what is wrong with the argument that it should be obvious that stories with big contridictions, talking animals and a relative imposibility in having witnesses are not historical, in our modern sense? I am trying to be respectful, but it seems like God would be disappointed in us for not seeing the clues.

  • DRT

    dopderbeck@57, I too tend to think of us more than that. But the way out of that argument for me is for me to think of us as eternal beings and use God’s perspective. In that sense I agree. However, I don’t see how to get into that without conjecturing some sort of soul or life that exists in a different reality. If I am to look at us in this dualistic way it seems that we run into other problems in the nature of our being. That too would be a great conversation.

  • DRT

    BTW, my natural inclination is to believe there is an eternal part of our nature not constrained by this bodily existance….

  • John I.

    RE Tim @ #55

    I think that Tim overeaches in his argument about the amount of significant variation generally and about the importance of that variation to the tradition of Adam and Eve. Contra Tim, I argue that the variation is not so significant as he makes it out to be; that even if it is, such variation is irrelevant to the Adam and Eve tradition; and more importantly, there is no significant variation on the matter at issue in this thread, i.e., the historical existance of a real Eve.

    Now its really Bye

    John I.

    NT Wright does not perceive his version of the New Perspective of Paul (and there are several New Perspectives) to be at such a large variance from the received tradition.

    But more to the point, on the historicity of Adam and Eve there is no significant variation in the tradition. Did the Holy Spirit guide the teachers of the church or did he not? If he did guide the church, then why did he allow its teachers to teach that Adam and Eve were historical?

    We are within a tradition, not outside it, and consequently we must treat our own tradition seriously, and as a tradition shaped and illuminated by God himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, Darwin is not on equal footing even if he is scientifically correct. That is, if we determine that our tradition requires an historical Eve, then we must link that with Darwinian science in a manner, for example, that Collins does. Because of our tradition, and the Holy Spirit, and the important role that Paul gives teachers as directly Spiritually gifted persons in in the church, the historicity of Adam and Eve is not up for grabs. Rather, it is the default position and requires a substantial amount of convincing evidence and reasoning to dismiss it.

    Given that a plausible argument (a la Collins) can be made for both the historicity of an Adam and Darwinian evolution, there is no reason to either toss out an historical Adam or to treat tradition as a meaningless factor in determining the historical truth of a real Adam.

    John I.

  • normbv

    I treat it as historical to a degree because of similar language in Revelation, Ezekiel, Daniel ect that is dealing with historical peoples and times. Once you identify the symbols the stories reflect actual events. You just need to know how to wade through them from the ancient viewpoint. However there is a lot of trappings that can really get one off track if we aren’t careful. I think Gen 1 is a prophetic overview account of historic Israel in this metaphorical Temple language of the ANE. I’ve already stated briefly my view above on Adam and Eve.

  • Tim

    John (61),

    “If he did guide the church, then why did he allow its teachers to teach that Adam and Eve were historical?”

    I don’t know John. Why did he allow the Catholic Church to stray in its teachings, for, you know, several centuries of essentially a monopoly on the expression of Christianity in Europe?

    “NT Wright does not perceive his version of the New Perspective of Paul (and there are several New Perspectives) to be at such a large variance from the received tradition.”

    NT Wright might feel that way, but several within the Protestant tradition find the New Perspective on Paul (and I know there are several, but there are commonalities) very threatening. Some are even labeling it heretical.

    “I think that Tim overeaches in his argument about the amount of significant variation generally and about the importance of that variation to the tradition of Adam and Eve.”

    OK, this is just saying you disagree. Well, I disagree back at you John 😉 I think a very robust case can be made for plenty of theological diversity within the Christian tradition. The fact that it hasn’t reached the Adam & Eve issue until VERY RECENTLY doesn’t really mean anything. Other doctrines lasted hundreds of years only to be challenged later. I fail to see how the time-line here is relevant.

  • dopderbeck

    DRT — I am a dualist, but a not a substance dualist. That is, I think human beings are one being comprising body and soul. I don’t think “soul” is a separable substance from “body.” You are correct that my way of thinking about the “Fall,” sin, will and agency, etc. is linked to dualism. Our fallenness doesn’t seem to affect our bodies in any discernible way; the corruption of sin and the death sin produces directly affects our souls.

  • DRT

    Yes. Sin produces profound and direct effect on our souls and therefore all souls and the relationships to others and God. It breaks creation.

    I have to stop here. Perhaps we will have a post about this some day.

  • smcknight

    dopderbeck, your fallenness might not be affecting your body, but mine is mine. Let me count the ways, and I’ll begin with knees.

  • dopderbeck

    Scot (#66) — ha. As would my calf muscle that won’t let me play soccer anymore.

    But if you want to say that the natural aging process is part of being “fallen,” that raises obvious and direct conflicts with science. Our bodies age because of physiological processes that have been part of nature for billions of years. Whenever the time of “Adam” could have been, his sin can’t be the temporal cause of the aging process. Unless you want to say that the “Tree of Life” literally provided some kind of anti-aging elixir.

  • John I.

    Tim @63

    The straying of the Catholic church on many issues did not occur for several hundred years. Moreover, the protestant argument is that the Catholic changes are a departure from apostolic and early church father teaching.

    More importantly, the belief in the historicity of Adam and Eve is an unchanged and unvarying belief for 4,000 years. I’d say that those two factors make for a considerable difference. Tim’s approach amounts to saying that since some beliefs have varied or changed, we thus cannot have dependance in any beliefs nor take any of them as a substantive starting position that puts the onus on the disbelievers.

    John I.

  • Tim

    John (68),

    OK, another example then. Dating Daniel to the 2nd Century BC is a clear departure from 2,000 years of tradition. Questioning the historicity conquest narrative is a departure of >2,600 years of tradition. Rejecting Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch is a departure of >2,600 years of tradition. I think you’re minimizing differences here. Also, I’m not talking about the Biblical text here. I’m talking about traditional interpretation of the Biblical text – and that certainly has been a dynamic, changing process.

  • John I.

    Tim @ 69

    I’m not saying that longheld beliefs cannot be changed, however I am saying that those who advocate change bear the onus and that they have a higher threshold of proof where a belief is a longstanding and unanimous teaching of the Spirit-filled teachers.

    Furthermore, and more importantly, you fail to distinguish between core theological beliefs apparently required by a reasonable interpretation of Jesus and the Apostles and the Scriptures themselves, and peripheral beliefs that are not so required and which are, moreover, not mentioned in the Bible. Thus the dating of Daniel to the 2d century (a matter which by no means is beyond dispute) is peripheral and not core and affects no theological beliefs. Similar is Mosaic authorship which is an extra-scriptural tradition and not linked to our theology.

    The historicity of the conquest narrative is more assured than not. That is, though it has been questioned, there is more archeological and documentary support for it than against it, when the story is understood in terms of the literary techniques of the time and within the text itself(collapsing events and timelines, ANE style “hyperbole”, etc.). Even the text itself indicates that not all inhabitants were destroyed and the area depopulated and then repopulated by Hebrews.

    These are significant differences. I do not think that those who dispute the historicity of an Adam and Eve have come anywhere close to meeting their burden. In addition, it seems to me that John Collins (ASA article) is on the right track in preserving the Biblical telling of historic event and personage while allowing for the current (and to be changed) findings of science. It is by no means necessary to dump this baby with the bathwater, and if it is not necessary then why should we?


    On other matters, in rereading my initial post and the ASA articles, I can see how my initial post could be taken as implying a recent Adam and an accurate transmission of history from him. The nature and methodology of education and tradition transmission in the ANE leads us to conclude among other things) that (1) writing was used from early on as a facilitator and accuracy checker for memorization and oral transmission of traditions. Hence we can have confidence that the traditions we have received are essentially those that Abraham (and earlier) listened to; (2) Oral transmission did result in modification of transmission and modification of written texts (there was an interplay between the two); and (3) the ANE attitude and approach to oral retelling and “accuracy” was different from ours and they modification of transmission as being within the bounds of “accuracy” and truth, and indeed necessitated by such.

    Consequently, we cannot appropriate the traditions in Genesis in the manner suggested by YECs, but neither should we jetison them.

    It does raise, however, the origin of these traditions. Are they the remnants of traditions emanating from Adam 40,000 years ago? Such a belief is not impossible, but neither is it required. Are they the result of revelation (visions, dreams, divine visitation, etc.) in the more recent past? But if so then why the overt similarity to and borrowing from other ANE traditions? Are they just entirely made up, but used by God anyway?

    In order to make appropriate rapprochement between biological evolution from a common ancestor and our received (i.e. scriptural) traditions, a key step is understanding the traditions themselves.

    At some point Scripture tradition has to trump potential implications of evolution or it is rather pointless and powerless. Evolution may be consistent with, and even imply, evolution from pre-hominid to hominid without any divine intervention, but it cannot ever prove such a case conclusively. There will always be room for the Biblical notion of a special creation of humankind, and as between the two we need to accept the Biblical notion or step outside and leave our Christian faith for something else.

    John I.

  • dopderbeck

    John I. — you’re saying the “special” creation of human beings is an essential of the Christian faith? I can’t agree with you there. That clearly adds to the Gospel.

    I also don’t agree that tradition has to “trump” anything. Truth is truth. Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience are sources of Truth, but they are not in themselves “Truth.” Truth is that which actually is. All of these sources of Truth point outside themselves to what actually is. Nothing in what actually is can “trump” anything else in what actually is. All of it is what it is; all Truth is one.

  • Tim

    John (70),

    “The historicity of the conquest narrative is more assured than not. That is, though it has been questioned, there is more archeological and documentary support for it than against it”

    I’m going to go with a big no on this one. Unless if you want to disagree with the vast majority of Archeologists specializing in the near east/Levant.

    See walls of Jericho for one example, though there are several, though there are many others. There was certainly upheaval in Canaan at during the 1200s when it’s most likely the Hebrew people settled there. But it bears little resemblance to the conquest narrative in Joshua. Now, near east archeology has confirmed other elements of the Torah, such as the Davidic kingdom, for example. But prior to that, things start looking sketchy, and I don’t know of anything (Biblically speaking) that has taken a greater beating from archeological research than the conquest narratives.

    “I do not think that those who dispute the historicity of an Adam and Eve have come anywhere close to meeting their burden.”

    Perhaps not by your standards, but what would that look like exactly? Proving that something that left no discernible trace whatsoever outside Genesis 2-3, that was attributed to anywhere from 6,000 years ago (if Adam was merely a representative of more modern humanity already possessing all the marks of spirituality), or 35,000 – 200,000 years ago (if Adam was a representative of the very first humans with souls), didn’t happen? Yeah, we’ll go check the 200,000 year-old video feed on that. No wait, we don’t have that.

    So your burden of proof claim isn’t really seriously attainable. Prove to me there’s not an advanced race of space aliens headed right for our planet to wipe out all humanity in 2560 AD. It can’t be done. Note, by the way, that I can continue to affirm a belief that aliens are coming here in to wipe out humanity in 2560 AD while while “allowing for the current (and to be changed) findings of science.” No conflict there whatsoever.

    We can all speculate how the ancient Hebrews read Genesis 2-3. Perhaps they initially saw it as more morally instructive myth. Or perhaps as legend with some ancient basis in history. Or maybe as an actual account of God’s historical special creation of and first covenant with man literally in a perfect garden. But how are we to know which one? And how are we to know if how they saw it was even right in any event? If you rely on tradition, then you’re left with the 3rd option, and like I said, no one who accepts modern science finds that 3rd option acceptable. So, your relying on tradition here fails. Tradition was wrong (if you accept modern science).

    So what do you do? Your primary information is Genesis 2-3, but you have discarded over 2,000 years of its traditional interpretation and come up with your own that you feel should be respected because no one can prove you wrong? Because you posited something that science can’t discredit? This is what is known as the logical fallacy of “shifting the burden of proof” It’s not a strength in an argument. It’s a weakness.

  • dopderbeck

    Tim — but your space alien analogy isn’t playing fair because we don’t have an authoritative revelation from God that says anything about space aliens, whereas we do have the various scriptural references to Adam, which for Christians must mean something, even if something metaphorical.

    Obviously the scriptural references don’t matter if the only admissible evidence is that of paleoanthropology. But for a Christian working within the framework of faith seeking understanding, in one way or another both scripture and paleoanthropology have to illuminate one another.

    This is why I keep coming back to the fact that you’re working from an essentially positivist understanding of what constitutes evidence, proof and knowledge. It seems to me that you are “shifting the burden of proof” because you don’t seem to credit scripture or any other evidence that isn’t subject to empirical falsification. You’re ruling as inadmissible forms of evidence that human beings have considered probative for most of our history.

  • Tim


    I think in the context of John’s comment

    “I do not think that those who dispute the historicity of an Adam and Eve have come anywhere close to meeting their burden.”

    it was fair. It was in that context I was responding, as he threw down a very UNFAIR gauntlet for those who want to disagree with him in essentially meeting an unmeetable standard.

    “Obviously the scriptural references don’t matter if the only admissible evidence is that of paleoanthropology.”

    This is not what I’m doing. My objections to a historical Adam and Eve do not rely on a “but there’s not paleoanthropological” evidence for it” reasoning.

    “This is why I keep coming back to the fact that you’re working from an essentially positivist understanding of what constitutes evidence, proof and knowledge.”

    Wrong. I allow for Scripture to be used as evidence. It’s just that the Genesis 2-3 story is not terribly obvious in terms of what, if anything, it means historically. The traditional interpretation of 2 millenium turned out to be wrong. So we are left with speculation as to whether it now occupies morally-instructive myth (with no historical content) or legend (with some historical kernel of truth that we still would have to speculate on).

    To represent my arguments as some positivist, a-priori excluding of scripture as evidential source, approach is to not appreciate my arguments, and really to wholesale misrepresent almost everything I’ve said on the topic.

  • John I.

    Re Tim @ 72

    It’s not shifting the burden of proof (I could claim that you are doing the same thing), but establishing where is should lie in the first place. We have a deposit of faith tradition kept and handed down to us by Spirit-filled leaders. Christianity is not a religion or belief that recreates itself anew every generation. The approach of Jesus, Paul and other apostles was one of deep respect for traditions (and by tradition I include the beliefs transmitted both orally and written). It is thus the inherent starting point for someone that works from within the Christian tradition to accept traditional teaching unless there is good reason to question it. This is not to say, of course, that there should not be questioning. The approach, however, is one of respect and belief until there is good reason to believe otherwise. Hence, someone who denies the validity of a unanimous core faith belief that has existed unchanged for 4,000 bears both the onus and faces a high threshold, especially where such a belief is not necessarily inconsistent with science.

    As for the historicity of the invasion, the debate is not one-sided and unanimous, but even if it were, it is still about the historicity of events that are not critical to an understanding of the human situation and what Christ did to rectify it. An historic Adam, on the other hand, is critical–at least to Jewish and Christian belief up to the 21st century. Dismissing Adam requires a significant reformulation of core beliefs.

    No one on this thread has provided any reasoning why believers in a historical Adam should have the onus.

    The video tape comment is a non-sensical red herring for anyone who is a Christian. Christians have access to revelatory truth in addition to scientific truth.


    @ #71 Dopderbeck writes, “the “special” creation of human beings is an essential of the Christian faith? I can’t agree with you there.”

    Again, like Tom’s arguments, Dopderbeck bears the burden of proof because his assertion is inconsistent with our current deposit of faith. As John Collins writes, “if we deny that all peopl have a common source that was originally good, but through which sin came into the world, then the existence of ain becomes God’s fault, or even something that God could not avoid. In either case there is little reason to be confident that any relief is headed our way.”

    The foregoing quote focuses on Adam and Eve as in some real sense the headwaters of humans, but does not particularly focus on the difference between humans and animals. Our deposit of truth asserts a special creation, and if humans are solely the result of material forces, and solely material themselves, what use is there for God or for a concept of sin? No matter what Biblical interpretation of the image of God we use (relational, resemblance, authority, or all three) the Bible requires a difference between animals and humans.

    John I.

  • John I.

    Re Tim @ #74: ” The traditional interpretation of 2 millenium turned out to be wrong.”

    Which traditional interpretation (as we have discussed several). The traditional belief that there was an historical Adam and Eve has not turned out to be wrong. Disputed, yes; wrong, no.

    Like Dopderbeck, I don’t see where Tim relies on evidence other than paleontologic and DNA and a positivistic frame of reference. [I write in the third person because that is how I’ve been trained to write and do write normally, and because it helps me not to overpersonalize comments]

    John I.

  • Tim

    John (75),

    “It is thus the inherent starting point for someone that works from within the Christian tradition to accept traditional teaching unless there is good reason to question it.”

    And you don’t think that a departure from the way the Genesis 2-3 story has been interpreted for the past 2 millenium in light of modern scientific findings and ANE scholarship reaches the threshold of “good reason to question it”?

    What you are arguing for is a cafeteria style traditionalism. Science discredits primordial pair, specially created from clay, ANE scholarship notes mythic parallels of perfect garden with forbidden fruit, lady of the rib, snake, tree of life, etc., so all that is fair game in terms of rejecting the traditional interpretation, but you apparently would really, really like to use tradition to affirm that Adam and Eve really existed in some capacity, in a history only distantly representative of the Genesis 2-3 account. With the one hand, you let traditional interpretation slip like sand through your fingers, with the other hand, you hold up the remains as buttressed by tradition. Why you think that would make sense to anyone but yourself is beyond me.

  • Tim

    John (continued response, now to 76),

    “Which traditional interpretation?”

    The one about a perfect garden, forbidden fruit, the talking snake, being made out of clay…and rib, etc. That traditional interpretation. I know there were outliers. Augustine had a rather interesting interpretation of Genesis. So did Origen. But by and large, the dominant interpretation of Genesis 2-3 looks like what I laid out above.

    “Like Dopderbeck, I don’t see where Tim relies on evidence other than paleontologic and DNA and a positivistic frame of reference.”

    That is only because the paleontological, anthropological, and ANE evidence has so far been pertinent to the points I was making on this topic. Furthermore, this evidence has obviously convinced me that tradition got it wrong on this point, and that the Genesis 2-3 account either was meant to be inspired as morally-instructive myth or otherwise involved some accommodation to the mythic background of the Hebrews at that time. However, if one wants to talk about, say, the resurrection of Christ, you would find that your presuppositions concerning what I accept as evidence don’t hold water.

  • Tim

    …clarification of above, while Augustine favored symbolic and allegorical interpretations of Genesis, I’m fairly sure he affirmed most of the story as literally true as well. Not so much for Genesis 1. But more so for Genesis 2-3.

  • John I.

    Re Tim @ #77: ” Why you think that would make sense to anyone but yourself is beyond me.”

    I’m in good company with Walton, (John) Collins, etc. The outlier in this case is Tim, who proposes a view that arose primarily with liberal theology in the 20th century and particularly in the last two decades. Nevertheless, Tim’s reasoning exemplifies my point that from within the tradition of Christianity the baseline is the received truth that Adam was an actual person in history. Such a belief is embedded in the creedal and doctrinal formulations of the Catholic, Eastern and Protestant churches. Tim, along with the ASA articles referenced by rjs, does provide good arguments for questioning this received truth. But that is my point exactly, the skeptic of received truth bears the onus, and in the face of a 4,000 year old unchanging unanimus truth faces a high threshold for proof. Tim presents what he believes is sufficient, though I am not convinced.

    Tim argues, however, as if presentation of evidence for skepticism and doubt somehow changes the ground rules. That is, in the face of such evidence we should assume that the received truth is wrong and bear the onus to prove it right; or that we all have to go back to square one and each advance arguments to tip an original neutral balance; or that it is now all up in the air and we must remain agnostic until we determine the truth; or that skepticism plus some evidence equals proof.

    John Collins, “Adam and Eve as Historical People, and Why it Matters” provides a cogent and reasonable argument for continuing to hold to a belief in an historical Adam even if we also hold at the same time to a belief in evolution. Therefore, the evidences raised by Tim do not necessitate dispensing with a belief in an historical Adam (and Collins approach is not the only one, either).

    Furthermore, while materialist evolution assumes a gapless progression, such an assumption is faith-based at present because there remain unexplained gaps. That is not to conclude that they might or might not be filled; it could go either way and we should not be to quick to posit a conclusion.

    What I find disturbing in the approach of Tim, but more especially of Harlow in “After Adam: Reading Genesis in an Age of Evolutionary Science”, is that Genesis 1 – 3, and likely up to 9 or 11, is rendered meaningless and insignificant in a substantive manner. Harlow looks to the similarity of etiological and creation myths around the world and finds that all humans, when reflecting on material origins and the origin of sin and conflict, come to similar conclusions. He uses the words “divinely inspired” as a sort of hand-waving to the evangelical concern with revelation.

    “[I]t is more fitting and faithful to the text to think of God inspiring the writer’s creative imagination and using it as the vehicle of theological truth” [emphasis added]. The implication of Harlow’s view is that the author’s of Genesis could have written any tale, provided only that they credited Yahweh with creation, and portrayed humans as rebellious.

    Consequently, for Harlo, there is nothing in early Genesis that is divinely revelatory. It is human reflection on the human condition. Harlow postulates a human condition where, initially, sin is nothing but animal behaviour and humans gradually come to an awareness that such behaviour is sinful: “They [“earliest humans”] would instead have had to struggle to sustain themselves, and to do so, they would have possessed strong tendencies toward the same types of behavior common to all animals. Only over time would they have developed a sufficient spiritual awareness to sense that many selfish behaviors are contrary to God’s will, and the moral imperative to transcend those behaviors.”

    I find nothing in Harlow’s approach that separates him from the evolution of religion approach of liberal christianity.

  • Tim


    Thank you for not at all addressing my argument, but just talking past me.

    To try to alleviate this talking past my arguments, please take a stab at answering the following:

    1) Do you believe that Adam was created from clay, breathed life into by God, as an original projinator of humanity?

    2) Do you believe that there was a primordial woman, Eve, who was created via God’s taking one of Adam’s ribs to form her?

    3) Do you believe that there was a physical Garden of Eden, complete with the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?

    4) Do you believe that God presented Adam with all of the animals such that he could name them?

    5) Do you believe that an actual talking serpent tempted Eve into partaking of the forbidden fruit?

    6) Do you believe that as a result of this eating of the forbidden fruit, that man and women were cursed, thrown out of this very physical and very perfect garden, with an Angel with a flaming sword to stand watch over it lest any attempt to return?

    If you answered no to any of these questions, then you would be joining ranks with me as a “skeptic” of over 2,000 year tradition of Christian interpretation of Genesis 2-3.

    So tell me John, are you a “skeptic” on any of the above questions 1-6 or not?

  • Tim

    …typo: projinator should be progenitor.

  • John I.

    Re #80

    Being a skeptic of part, does not make one a skeptic of all. Moreover, even if I was skepical about all 6 items, and joined Tim’s ranks, that skepticism would not remove from me the burden of showing that historic Judaism and Christianity were wrong, nor would it relieve me of the requirement to provide a very significant amount of very reliable evidence that the received deposit of truth is entirely wrong. Christians are not wrong for accepting the historic deposit (that Adam was real) as the truth and the starting point for the investigation of truth; rather, such is the proper, appropriate and Biblical approach.

    Furthermore, the focus is primarily on the historicity of Adam in light of biological evolution (“The Fall and Sin After Darwin” in the lede), not the historicity of the snake or the garden (though that does come into play–“How Much History in Gen 1-3?”).

    Questioning something, or being skeptical of it, does not in and of itself affect the truth value of that something. Furthermore, being skeptical of something does not change either the onus or the threshold of proof.

    I have interacted with Tim’s arguments by showing that his evidences supporting his skepticism are irrelevant to the issue of onus and threshold. I have shown that he has not provided any sufficent reason to change the onus or threshold, and I have provided reasons why the onus should remain with the skeptics and why the threshold should be high.

    In addition, I have drawn out the significant negative implications of his (and Harlow’s) approach to the Biblical revelation that is early Genesis.

  • rjs


    That last comment (#81) (and for that matter the phrasing in #77) is a big part of the problem in holding useful discussion. It would help if you would be a little more forgiving in the conversation as people try to flesh out ideas. Very few of us (if any) are coming to these posts with completely defined ideas. In order to get anywhere we must all make an effort to understand the other person’s point without resorting to absurdity.

    Many of us think that Gen 2-3 involves an accommodation to the mythic background of the Hebrews. Jack Collins also accepts that position. But the accommodation to mythic background need not lead to a complete dismissal of historicity in “Adam” or the Fall or a regulation of Gen 2-3 to “mere” story (fictional tale).

    If we believe in the Spirit at all (and I do) then an appeal to take tradition seriously is not misplaced. Especially when the appeal is to consider tradition seriously as it relates to a key idea such as the sinfulness of mankind and what Gen 2-3 teaches about this sinfulness.

    The appeal to tradition is most important when we consider the consequential meaning rather than the caricatured details.

  • rjs


    I think you may have misunderstood Harlow though – I rather doubt his reasoning can be dispensed with quite so easily.

  • Tim

    RJS (and John I too),

    RJS, I appreciate your encouragements to make discourse more civil. However, I truly do feel that at times persons such as John I and Dopderbeck try to shove me in a corner as some positivist/empiricist/incredulous skeptic. What I think you saw in the last portion of 81 was me pushing back on this. We are all “skeptics” of something. John is a “skeptic” on the traditionally historically accepted “details” (like maybe 80% of Genesis 2-3) but not on there being an actual Adam, an actual Eve, and an actual fall. The evidence for the dismissal of the 80% calls me to question the remaining 20%. How is this unreasonable?

    In any event, John seems to think that anyone who dares to express “skepticism” of the historicity of Adam and Eve has to somehow come up with “evidence” that they never existed. That’s an impossible bar to meet, yet John cavalierly throws it around as if he’s being the most reasonable person in the world. As if scientific and scholarly evidence casting doubt on the historicity of 80% of a story in no way warrants being “skeptical” of the remaining 20%. I find this incredible.

    And then John goes further to somehow draw on 2,000 year old tradition that, what, affirmed some historical kernel of truth relating to Adam, Eve, and the fall? No! He draws on 2,000 years of tradition that, essentially, accepted all of it as historical! So, he’s parting ways with tradition 80% of the way, and I go 20% further, and somehow I’m the unreasonable skeptic? I don’t see how.

  • Tim

    Question for John,

    What would qualify as “evidence” for a case against the historicity of Adam and Eve? What could possibly be found that would meet your threshold of proof? Could you give me an example?

  • normbv


    I think we have touched on this before but let me ask you this question concerning Adam’s historicity. If my premise is correct that Adam very possibly represents a historical ANE figure such as the Adapa individual (circa 4000BC aprx) appropriated by the Hebrews does that cause any theological problems for Pauline theology? How might that affect the way you frame the discussion about Adam? Would it change your stance somewhat if enough peripheral evidence pointed to his historicity?

    If there is some limited historicity found embedded in all of Gen 1-11 in some fashion does it also change the way you would approach this discussion?

    Just some questions to take us deeper?

  • Tim

    Follow-up response to RJS,

    “But the accommodation to mythic background need not lead to a complete dismissal of historicity in “Adam” or the Fall or a regulation of Gen 2-3 to “mere” story (fictional tale).”

    Are you implying that the genre of morally-instructive non-historical tale is somehow beneath the inspiration of God? Is Job historical? Is it less inspired because it is not historical?

    I think the degree of “mythic accommodation” in the Genesis 2-3 account is not so minor as to not give one cause to question its genre as pertains to history. I think that since over 2,000 years of traditional Christian interpretation failed to even recognize such “accommodation” in the first place, that a re-evaluation is in order.

    Again, if what we currently have in the way of science and scholarship on the Genesis 2-3 account doesn’t warrant a genre re-assessment, what would? I’m being dead serious in this question. What would RJS?

  • rjs


    You are hung up on “actual Adam,” “actual Eve”.

    The real key issue, the one that forms this discussion of the historicity of an “actual Adam” is the idea of an “actual fall” and its impact on humanity. I mean come on, many of us would agree that the “Adam” could be the community of homo Sapiens 200,000 years ago in Africa. This is consistent with Collins’s approach whether his preferred position or not – he says as much in the article.

    The historicity of the fall – is a topic so big that one post won’t get it. (Nor will the two or three more I plan – but it is a start and at least we can look at some of the questions separately.)

  • rjs

    Comment 90 was a response to 86 and 87. Comment 89 was posted at I was composing my comment.

  • Tim


    I think your argument and John’s are very different. I have no problems with thinking that Genesis 2-3 might have some basis in history. I seriously have no problem with that. I think your scenario, as a speculation, is just fine. I think Dopderbeck might try to argue that there are some theological implications of pre-existing sin, but that’s an issue we’ll take up in RJS’s later post (expected Thursday?) on the subject of sin and creation. But John is arguing that he sees no reason to be skeptical of the historicity of Adam and Eve, as real historical figures, in the first place. He seriously sees no reason not to just plod along thinking that no serious challenge in that regard has been given. That is where I disagree. Doubt has been cast on the historicity of Adam and Eve. It’s not to say that something like what you proposed might exist, it’s just that the level of warrant for insisting that the foundation for the a belief in a historical Adam and Eve hasn’t been compromised, because, well, it has.

  • Tim


    You are hung up on “actual Adam,” “actual Eve”.

    No, I am arguing with John I on this subject, not you. You are not hung up on an actual Adam and Eve. But I think John I is. Maybe he sees Adam and Eve as corporate entities, or maybe not. But his arguments use fairly clear language asserting their historicity. So that’s reflected in my comments.

  • rjs


    Are you going to browbeat because you are convinced that there is no Adam until you gain submission? Or are you going to enter into conversation on the core issues that lead many to conclude that somehow in some way there must be a historical Adam?

    The problem is that it doesn’t appear that you are arguing with John because you are not actually reading and interacting with his ideas – only with his use of “Adam” and “Eve.”

    One of the problems I think we have as a church in this whole discussion is an inability to listen and really hear what the other is saying. We need to listen and understand before charging forward. It is the only way to learn, and perhaps find ourselves in error at times, and the only way to persuade others of the truths that seem self-evident to us. (It is also a discipline requiring the fruit of the spirit.)

  • Tim


    If I am missing something that John is saying, could you please point it out to me? Miscommunication happens all the time, and maybe I am guilty of missing something. But I think you need to be specific, particularly if you are going to say I am not engaging him and “browbeating.”

  • John I.

    Re rjs @ #85 and Harlow

    I agree that my comment sounds too categorical and dismissive, and I agree that Harlow definitely would not perceive himself in the manner that I have indicated. However, even on my second reading of Harlow I find it hard to distinguish the effects of his methodology from those of 20th century liberal theology. Among other things, I find his definition or understanding of inspiration to be too nebulous. My post was getting too long by that point.

  • Tim


    I would repeat my question to RJS to you. In a brief synopsis, is there an argument you are making that I am not listening to? I’m serious in that I do want to grant you every consideration in your arguments and not argue past you or not attend to what you are saying. So, seriously, what is your argument as quickly surmised, and am I missing the gist of it in any way? Or, alternatively, do we just have a genuine disagreement?

  • John I.

    Re Tim @ #87 “What would qualify as “evidence” for a case against the historicity of Adam and Eve?”

    It does seem that at least one ship has passed in the night. I have agreed that all of the matters raised by Tim count as evidence against the historicity of Adam and Eve. My point is not that there is no such evidence, only that the evidence is not conclusive and that the onus to disprove the historicity of an Adam lies with the skeptic. Further, given the structure of the body of Christ, viz. that we have been given by Christ Spirit filled teachers whom we can trust, Christians today have full warrant to believe in an historic Adam–until their teachers come to believe otherwise.

    The interaction on this point begain with Tim’s post at #36: “But you tell me where the historical basis is to Enkidu, and I’ll tell you where the historical basis is to Eve ”

    Therefore, I responded to show that (1) Christians today have sufficient warrant to believe in an historic Adam, (2) the onus lies on skeptics such as Tim to prove otherwise, (3) Tim’s evidence is not sufficient to require abandoning a belief in an historic Adam, and (4) a belief in an historic Adam can be maintained together with a belief in Darwinian evolution of humans.

    In reviewing the exchange of posts, I don’t conclude that Tim has proved otherwise.

    John I.

  • John I.

    Re Tim at #86: “John seems to think that anyone who dares to express “skepticism” of the historicity of Adam and Eve has to somehow come up with “evidence” that they never existed. That’s an impossible bar to meet”

    Given that Christians have warrant to believe in an historic Adam and Eve, then yes, Tim and other skeptics do have to come up with such evidence. For example, Harlow and Venema think that there would have had to have been 6,000 to 10,000 homo sapiens at the time they became morally responsible and in a relationship with God. That exceeds what Collins would allow. However, I do not find their argumentation convincing. Another route to go would be to provide exegetical evidence that Adam did not exist.

  • rjs

    John I,

    The use of third person and some of the descriptors does not help matters.

    But I don’t think that 6-10K would exceed the number that Collins would allow – it is still a small entirely interrelated group. I don’t agree with some of his descriptors like “chief” but it isn’t worth arguing about because that kind of detail we will never know.

  • Tim


    Could you please respond to #95 as you laid down quite the criticism? I do take constructive criticism well and am willing to admit fault, but I don’t like the “hit and run” style of dropping the criticism and then not engaging when the person being criticized is trying to understand what is going on.

  • Tim


    You have repeatedly avoided answering all my attempts at asking you “what would qualify as sufficient evidence to disconfirm the historical existence of an Adam and Eve?”

    The ONLY thing you dropped in the way of that is exegetical support in Scripture. While there is exegetical support to infer that Genesis 2-3 MIGHT be a morally-instructive non-historical tale, when read in light of current ANE scholarship, that wouldn’t likely reach your level of certainty you would prefer to have.

    In any case, I don’t think limiting your answer to ONLY that contained within scripture is called for. What outside of scripture would qualify as evidence sufficiently compelling to change your mind on Adam John?

    Let me repeat that question so you don’t miss it:

    What outside of scripture would qualify as evidence sufficiently compelling to change your mind on Adam John?

    I mean, if you go throwing around statements like “the onus lies on skeptics such as Tim to prove otherwise,” & Tim’s evidence is not sufficient to require abandoning a belief in an historic Adam,” and can’t answer this simple question, then I can’t really respect your argument any longer. The whole idea of “onus” falls apart. What you then have left is, “my idea is beyond disconfirmation, so onus has no relevancy here.”

    Also, out of curiosity, what is your view of Adam historically? Tribal Chief? Just a corporate term for a large group of people? What exactly?