Evolutionary Creation 9 (RJS)

We’ve been working through Denis O. Lamoureux’s book Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution – a book that describes a way to move beyond the creation and evolutions debates. Chapter 7 provides Dr. Lamoureux’s vision of the means to move beyond conflict and concordance. His approach hinges on the Message Incident Principle separating the divinely inspired message from the incidental features of the text arising from the context of the day and age when it was produced. This is illustrated below.

The message contained within scripture is divinely inspired of God, but he accommodates his message to human limitations in understanding and knowledge. God proceeds stepwise in relationship to finite and limited human perspective. For example, a message of Genesis 1 is that God is creator, not how God created or the precise material form of what he created. Likewise a message of Genesis 2 is the God ordained institution of marriage; formation of Eve from Adam’s rib is incidental, not part of the message.

This leads to a key question often raised – what about Adam and Noah?

Does the message-incident approach to scripture help address the question of Adam and Noah as in some sense literal, historical individuals?

Dr. Lamoureux addresses the question of Adam and Noah in the last part of Chapter 7. While the answer may be easy or relatively unimportant if the text of Genesis is taken alone, the New Testament writers refer directly to these individuals. For many Christians this complicates the issue substantially.

Jesus, Adam, and Noah – In the accounts related in the Gospels Jesus refers to Genesis 2 and to the story of Noah in Genesis 6-9.  The story of Noah is used as a warning when Jesus discusses the coming of the Son of Man:

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.  Mt 24:36-39

This is an apocalyptic passage and the message-incident principle provides a useful guide to understanding. The message, as I read it, is that action of God is abrupt according to his own time. Human perspective leads to a false sense of security. Perhaps there is also an application – that we should remain alert, aware, and faithful before God. Certainly Matthew makes this point when he records Jesus using an illustration of the faithful and evil slaves in 24:45-51. But the story of Noah is incidental to the message, and the use of the story need not imply that Noah is historical or ahistorical. In Luke 17 Jesus is recorded as using the story of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah to make the same point. Again the story is incidental to the message, and doesn’t speak to historicity. The historicity of Lot and Noah are issues to be judged on other grounds and the decision need not be the same for both passages of Genesis.

According to Dr. Lamoureux:

References to Noah and the flood by Jesus and Peter do not prove the historicity of this man or destructive event. Nor does their mention in the New Testament make Gen 6-9 historical. The existence of Noah and the reality of a worldwide deluge were facts of history for the Jews and early Christians. But these notions were part of an ancient understanding of history. The appearance of Noah and the flood in the New Testament does not confirm their reality or confer historicity to them any more than references to a 3-tier universe by Jesus and Peter establish this as the structure of the cosmos. (p. 278)

Jesus also refers to Gen 1 and 2 in a fashion that does not require historicity of Adam and Eve for the truth of the intended message. In Matthew 19 Jesus replies to a query from some Pharisees regarding divorce (the same exchange is related in Mark 10:6-9 as well):

And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” Mt 19:4-6.

This passage reflects on the God ordained institution of marriage, a message that is also a key point in Gen 2. In other words this message of Gen 2 is the message Jesus expands upon in his exchange with the Pharisees. This exchange does not speak to the literary form of Gen 2, nor is it impacted by the historicity of Adam and Eve as unique individuals.

The message-incident principle helps on many levels here. It is clear that the message is not connected with the “historicity” of Adam or Noah, and it doesn’t even really matter if Jesus or the evangelists thought of  Noah and Adam as unique historical individuals. There are no real theological problems.

Paul and Adam – Paul’s references to Adam, particularly his references in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 are somewhat more difficult to deal with. Here Dr. Lamoureax’s argument does not seem to do justice to the depth of the theological questions.

Genesis 1-3 is not a literal historical account of the origin of humanity. In making this case Dr. Lamoureux lists a number of features of the text of Genesis 1-11 that point away from the literal historicity of Adam and Eve, including the literary genre, the implications of ancient science, the contradictory order of creation events, the purpose of the text for tribal formation including the form of the name “adam” as a Hebrew word meaning “man” in the generic sense, and the nature of ancient genealogies.

Coming from the other direction, looking at the scientific evidence, Dr. Lamoureux summarizes geology, anthropology, archaeology, and ANE history in making the case against a unique pair as progenitor of the entire human race. The evidence is quite clear. He does not mention the genetic evidence embedded in the human genome – but this is even more conclusive in my opinion than the evidence he does cite.

Dr. Lamoureux also points out that Adam is not a part of any of the early church creeds. The profound significance of Adam in the doctrine of Sin is a relatively late development in the church, without a great deal of evidence before Augustine … unless, of course, one reads Paul as teaching this.

Dr. Lamoureux concludes:

The biblical and scientific evidence does not support the historicity of Adam. Undoubtedly, all the inspired authors of Scripture believed that he had literally once existed. But this was the science and history-of-the-day. Nevertheless, Adam plays a vital role in the Bible. He is an incidental ancient vessel used by the Holy Spirit to reveal the Messages of Faith that God created humans in His Image, they wilfully sin against Him, and He judges men and women for their sinfulness. To be sure, the conclusion that Adam never existed has significant implications for the events in Gen 3 and the origins of sin, suffering, and death. These are dealt with in the next chapter. (p. 276-277)

Adam, Sin, the Fall, and Questions Remaining – I agree with every point Dr. Lamoureux makes here about Genesis and about the scientific evidence. Not only this, but the idea that without the Fall there would have been no biological death or suffering of any sort is not even a consistent view within the church over the millenia. While a young earth and a unique, historical, individual couple, Adam and Eve, was the general consensus within the church, Christian thinking about the text of Genesis has been deep and varied on related issues, including death. To cite one example, John Calvin’s commentary on Genesis makes this clear – both from his own view of Gen 2-3 and from the various views he mentions and disagrees with in his commentary. A careful reading of Gen 3, independent of the historicity of Adam, has significant implications for the origins of sin, suffering, and death. Much of what is taught within the conservative Protestant church today is inconsistent with the text of Genesis and with the way the text has been read and wrestled with through the years.

While the message-incident principle is a useful starting point in considering Paul’s use of Adam, there are still profound questions. The real issues we need to deal with in discussing Paul’s use of Adam are more subtle – and more theologically significant – than the issues raised by Jesus’s references to Noah and to marriage. As I see it there are two major issues to be considered. The first is the universality of sin and of human guilt and accountability. The second is the nature of the atonement through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as God’s Messiah. These are tied up, not so much in the historicity of Adam, as in the historicity, in some sense, of a fall. They leads us to think more deeply about the message of scripture and about what is, or could be, incidental to the the message of scripture.

The next post in this series will look at Ch. 8 A Christian Approach to Human Evolution and Dr. Lamoureux’s approach to questions of sin in more detail. For today I would like to stop here and pose the question:

What do you see as the most significant issue raised by Paul’s discussion of Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15? Does his message depend on the historicity of Adam and/or of the Fall?

Or asked a little differently:

What is the message of Genesis 3,  Romans 5, and 1 Cor. 15 and what features are incidental? How might the message be separated from the incidental features of the way this message is presented?

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

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

For those who find the full book (400+ pages) somewhat daunting Dr. Lamoureux has condensed the book into a more accessible version, I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution. He also provides audio and slide summaries of each chapter of Evolutionary Creation online.

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  • smcknight

    The issue for me, RJS, concerns “transmission” of sin from one human to another. I can accept the Message-Incident approach for many issues, not the least of which is the perception of cosmology, etc.

    And I can accept the same for Adam in general.

    But one of the convictions of Romans 5 concerns sin being passed on, and it appears to me that Romans 5:12-21 sees a connection from one human to another. The Message is clear: we all sin and we are all sinners. The Incident is also clear: Adam.

    But can we get to a universal sense of sin apart from some kind of ontological transmission?

    I could explore this further, including affirming that I don’t accept Jerome’s reading of 5:12 and I can see “because all sinned” as saying that all are sinners because all sin in the concrete deed — but why then “Adam”?

    Well, this whole approach of the Message-Incident makes me rethink this stuff from a new angle.

    Good post.

  • Percival

    I’m not sure why the transmission of sin is a particular problem. Or, does that problem arise because there is apparently no common descent? Nevertheless, we understand that the ANE idea of the man’s “seed” is the way by which the total essence of the man is passed to his offspring. This communicates the idea that each child is like the father and reproduction is after its kind. If Adam is a generic man, then the process of transmission of the sinful bent (like all other common human characteristics) is repeated with every act of human procreation.

    I sometimes wonder if our genetic makeup were “tweaked” by God we might produce offspring less bent toward sin. I worked with people with Down’s syndrome for a time, and while they were of course fully human in every way, they somehow seemed more pure and less sinful to me. This may hint at how humans could be transformed. Just wondering.

  • What do you make of Luke 3, where both Noah and Adam appear in the genealogy of Jesus? Maybe there’s been a discussion on genealogies here that I’ve missed…seems like something that rjs would have discussed.

    I generally like the Message-Incident approach, but I worry that it brings us to the point of doing to the Bible what Thomas Jefferson did. What I find more helpful is from John Oswalt’s book “The Bible Among the Myths” (which I reviewed for the Jesus Creed back in August: http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2010/08/14/saturday-afternoon-book-review-andy-holt-6/ ). He argues that the Bible presents a world where God is transcendent, but the other ancient myths present a world where the realm of the gods is continuous with creation. To put it simply, in pagan religion, the gods can be manipulated, but the God of the Bible cannot.

    One reason I found this so helpful is because it answered this question for me: Why didn’t God correct ancient cosmology? The more important task was to correct ancient theology. And I believe that, had the Bible been written with corrected cosmology, it would not have survived the test of time. People would have found it absurd and nonsensical. God, in his wisdom, corrected the theology of humanity within the context of their incorrect cosmology. This must mean that God cares far more about the way we understand him than the way we understand the universe.

    Clearly, I’m not a scientist. But I do worry that we accommodate too much to the ever-evolving world of science. A thousand years from now, won’t they be laughing at our 21st-century cosmology? But the Bible will still be the same.

  • rjs


    I’ve discussed the genealogies of Matthew and Luke in other posts. I didn’t bring it up here because it didn’t seem worth the space in an already long post. Lamoureux also brings up the genealogy in his book.

    My brief take: Luke connects Jesus to Jewish history and to David, this is the message. The connection to Noah and Adam is simply a connection back to Genesis and doesn’t really say anything else. Starting from the differences in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke as a key data point I have a hard time believing that they were inspired as a depiction of actual biological descent. The specific names are incidental to the message.

    1000 years from now some of our ideas will no doubt be considered quaint, naive, and foolish. But the reason will not be a return to ANE cosmology or biology. This is one reason why it seems unwise to look for scientific concordance in the text – we need to read to listen to the message intended by God, accommodated to the views of the day, and in our interaction with the text, through the Holy Spirit, accommodated to the views of our day.

  • Darryl

    Excellent post and very intriguing. I find the Message-Incident approach fascinating and worthy of thinking through. As far as passing sin along…well, not all of us struggle with that particular theology…:) Those from a “restorationist” point of view don’t view a sin nature as particularly inherited. Granted we are 100% prone to sin (with the exceptions you made, Percival). So, the lack of “inherited sin” doesn’t affect me much. When one considers “Adam” can carry the meaning of “mankind” as opposed to “one man”, it isn’t so problematic. So then, there would have been no one particular couple who brought sin into the world. Humans just couldn’t pull off perfection for any length of time at all–whether as a group or individually.

    Still, it does cause me a little consternation to think there may not have been a point in time where Eden existed literally.

  • Will

    For me, the typology of “first Adam” is more satisfactory than the historicity of the person in that a more robust anthropology is possible. Yet, the question as to the historicity of the fall is in my eyes more compelling. If I conceive of Adam as existing in a pre-fall state of fullness and perfection, then there is something about the historical incidents that becomes compelling. However, Maximus Confessor viewed the fall from another direction. Maximus views Adam not in a pre-fall state of perfection; rather, the choice (however inept this word is with this conceptual freight) to be like God, is a perfecting endeavor. For Maximus perfection is a dynamic process that involves constructive choice, rather than perfection as being a created state embodied by Adam. This proposal works from a positive direction, rather than the negative. The moment/state of the fall is not a failure of Adam and humanity that gives up perfection, rather it is our failure to embrace perfection and God’s likeness. This seems to dissolve the historical/theological crises of perfect Adam choosing imperfection. Adam wasn’t perfect, yet God had created so that creation might share in the fulness of God’s life, which seems to be a dynamic and constructive choice, the first Adam, and I, fail to consistently embody.

  • These questions seem a bit limited. Shouldn’t they be more related to the books/letters as a whole? So, rewording the questions (in my mind):

    How does Romans 5 fit into Paul’s overall letter, and how does the usage of Adam strengthen is point or argument? The same for 1 Cor 15? Does the point of this section of the letter (in which Romans 5 fits) depend on the historicity of Adam?

    Genesis 3 is a little different because its not a letter whereas Romans and 1 Corinthians are. Most of the material in Genesis seems to be a conglomeration of earlier [and later] sources.

  • normbv

    Scot said … “But can we get to a universal sense of sin apart from some kind of ontological transmission?”

    I’ve stated this before but you have to understand the audience whom Paul is addressing here in Romans 5 and the suppositions that Paul is speaking from. Paul is not speaking toward the Universal mankind here but is discussing the corporate or covenant context of “sin” as related to Adam and Israel [their mankind]. This whole discussion of Paul from Rom 5 thru 8 is about the consequence of “sin” within the covenant people [Israel]. You must keep in view Paul has two mankind groups in focus [Jew & Gentile] in his writings which is driven home in
    Eph 2:15 in which the two are only made one through Christ. This is done through the abolition of the Law which pertained specifically to the Jews.

    Eph 2:15 ESV by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself ONE NEW MAN IN PLACE OF THE TWO, so making peace,

    In Romans 5:12-21 the Law was first established with Adam the first of Israel and yet death still reigned over those in the covenant lineage [Seth thru Moses] until the fuller version of the Mosaic Law was instituted at Mt. Sinai. This brought about the increase of “sin death” because of the increase of “law” and the realization of the futility of that mode of existence with God. That is the intent of those verses.

    This is not a Universal application of Adam’s sin to all mankind unless they entered into the covenant people of Israel by worshiping the one true God or with Christ through faith in His work of Salvation by either group now. [Jew or Gentile]

    Rom 5:19 ESV For as by the one man’s disobedience the MANY were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the MANY will be made righteous.

    Romans 5:19 is not universal language to all men unless they are in covenant with God. The church began with Adam and it fell from its Garden establishment because of Law. We are back in the Garden now but not universally all mankind as it’s specific to faith and always has been as illustrated at the beginning of Seth’s lineage. That is the context of Paul’s “all men” in Romans 5 and often elsewhere I might add.

    Gen 4:26 ESV To Seth also a son was born, … At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.

    Genesis is about the lineage of Adam primarily toward the coming of Messiah yet the branches of the Nations off of Adam and Noah’s sons illustrate that there was a historic ANE commonality with those Nations surrounding Israel and they were to be included back into the plan eventually but it is always a moot issue unless there is faith in God.

    We should gain a clue that Paul is speaking of Garden existence in Rom 5:13 when he says that “sin” was in the world before Adam received the Law. Adam was placed in the Garden to remove him from the Sin of the world. This is further identified latter by Paul in Rom 7:9 where Adam was “sinless”. The reason he was sinless was because he was in God’s Garden not in the “world”.

    Rom 7:9 ESV I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.

    Therefore the sin of disobeying the Law was Paul’s complete thesis in all of his writings in which it is the enemy of the covenant people. The Law must go for the old church to be returned to the Garden. This is made extremely clear in 1 Cor 15 where the abolition of the “Law” removes the “Sin” from the covenant faithful but not the world outside the reestablished Garden.

    1Co 15:56-57 The sting of death is sin, and THE POWER OF SIN IS THE LAW. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Finally Paul gives us illustrations that he was reading Genesis metaphorically, especially with his particular application of Gen 2:24 and that it was speaking about Christ and the church. In other words Paul read the ancient church into Genesis 2.

    Eph 5:31-32 ESV “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (32) This mystery is profound, and I AM SAYING THAT IT REFERS TO CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.

    Does Paul’s view depend upon a historicity of Adam? I come down firmly that indeed yes it does. However it doesn’t have to be taken literally from Genesis 2 Details as that is metaphorical literature but the beginning of the Generations in Gen 5:1 is specific that Adam was considered a historic figure of some magnitude from the ANE and Jewish perspective. However its about a man who was taken out of the darkness and chaos of the world of humanity to begin the ancient church or the faithful to God.

    Eph 5:8 ESV for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

  • Somehow this idea of message-incident removes out a significant source of truth/meaning. If we look solely to what we believe to be the meaning and strip out anything not essential to that truth (incidental?), are we constructing anew or simply doing a better job of interpreting? Scot’s question/point about sin, “But can we get to a universal sense of sin apart from some kind of ontological transmission?” when followed by Percival’s response, “we understand that the ANE idea of the man’s “seed” is the way by which the total essence of the man is passed to his offspring. This communicates the idea that each child is like the father and reproduction is after its kind. If Adam is a generic man, then the process of transmission of the sinful bent (like all other common human characteristics) is repeated with every act of human procreation.” seems to illustrate this. How much of the incidental may be stripped away before we end up constructing a new narrative?

  • normbv

    Bill H.

    The “seed” procreation illustration is used biblically to also describe those who are either of the good “seed” of faith or the bad “seed” of Satan.

    Gen 3:15 ASV and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

    Rom 9:8 ASV That is, it is not the children of the flesh that are children of God; but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed.

    1Jn 3:9-10 ESV No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (10) By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: …

    Ultimately it is the “seed” born of God that is not of the flesh but of the promise who are the true heirs and are called sons of God.

  • DRT

    I wish I could appreciate the major problem that you all see in Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15.

    In #2 Scot says

    But one of the convictions of Romans 5 concerns sin being passed on, and it appears to me that Romans 5:12-21 sees a connection from one human to another. The Message is clear: we all sin and we are all sinners. The Incident is also clear: Adam.

    But can we get to a universal sense of sin apart from some kind of ontological transmission?

    Perhaps I am less enlightened, but to me in Romans 5 15 it says “For if the many died through the transgression of the one man, 20 how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many!”. Doesn’t this necessarily imply that the transmission in question does not have to be through an ontological progeny? Isn’t the plain meaning of this that since we know that Jesus did not transmit his grace to many through reproduction so why would Adam have had to do that? Isn’t what he is talking about here the relationship of Man, writ large, with God. Adam, committed a corporate sin and all men are then dead because of this sin. This is true whether there is some individual Adam or a group of Adam.

    What am I missing?

  • @ normbv

    Thanks. I get the idea of the “seed” but my point is that using Percival’s analysis, sin existed as a function of existence as opposed to a fall, hence my question as to whether the message-incident method results in interpretation or construction. Where this leads I do not know or have thought deeply about.

  • Robert Hagedorn

    Do a search: The First Scandal Adam and Eve.

  • normbv

    Bill H.

    I believe Paul is saying also that “sin” existed before the fall yet it was not counted when there is no “law” [Rom 5:13]. Of course the caveat is that Paul was speaking of Garden/covenant existence for the faithful to God only. It’s the same today in that there is now no law and our sins are not counted as Garden life has been reinstated. Genesis and Revelation are both written in metaphorical language but Paul interprets Genesis for us so that we can understand Revelation as well.

    Outside are the dogs according to Rev 22:15 which infers that one had better be in the covenant City drinking from the River of life to enjoy that eternal reality.

  • #1 Scott McKnight writes:
    “The issue for me, RJS, concerns “transmission” of sin from one human to another. I can accept the Message-Incident approach for many issues, not the least of which is the perception of cosmology, etc. . . .
    Well, this whole approach of the Message-Incident makes me rethink this stuff from a new angle.”

    Dear Scott,
    Once one gets comfortable with the cosmology, the door opens for biology, in particular evolutionary biology and human evolution. The final frontier is evolutionary psychology from an evangelical Christian perspective.

    Here is what Darwin wrote in the M Notebook in the late 1830s:

    “Our descent, then, is the origin of our evil passions!! — The Devil under form of Baboon is our grandfather!”

    Ergo, think about original sin in the light of evolutionary psychology, and not St. Augustine’s 5th century biology.

    I’m finishing a paper on this and will send it if you want.


  • Denis’ concept of “ancient scientific” understandings being incidental to the message does not seem to present any problems. However, when it comes to data presented as history his thought seems more problematical. Maybe primeval history. since it was not written down close to the time period in which it appears to have happened, may also be considered somewhat incidental?

    My problem is how does one know what is incidental and what is part of the message? With the parables we have Jesus’ explanations to help guide us but with the A&E story how does one determine what is incidental and what is the message. Maybe resolving this problem is trivial to the rest of you but it looms as a big problem to me.

    As I recall Denis regards not only A&E as incidental but also Noah and his family. So why not Abraham and the patriarchs, Moses and on down through the prophets and judges until such point as we find solid extra Biblical evidences for their existence? (Yes I know that Denis regards Abraham and on as historical persons and not incidental.)

    When it comes to Gen 1 I rather like John Walton’s approach but I feel that it is important to have a historical A&E with the garden story being a poetic representation of man kinds alienation from God. While I do not see that we have a historical account it seems important that there is history behind the story that we have in order to make sense of Paul’s references to Adam, for example.

    Note I am not suggesting that A&E were directly created by God or that there was not physical death prior to their sin etc. Although I do think that prior to A&Es sin(s) that Homo sapiens were innocent since as Paul says that without law there is no sin.
    Dave W

  • Tim

    “Ergo, think about original sin in the light of evolutionary psychology, and not St. Augustine’s 5th century biology.”

    And that is a point I’ve been tried to convey previously at Jesus Creed – thanks Denis 🙂

  • Tim

    should be “been trying”. Arghh…lousy grammar 🙁

  • rjs

    Tim and Denis,

    While a fair bit of traditional understanding of original sin can be written off as Augustine’s 5th century biology, this is not the whole story. Even without the concept of material transmission of a changed nature (which I don’t find scientifically convincing or theologically necessary) there are theological questions that are not simply addressed by reference to evolutionary psychology.

    I didn’t list the Augustinian view of Original Sin as a major problem – rather the universality of human guilt and accountability and the nature of the atonement through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as God’s Messiah.

    So – I don’t think the “final frontier” is evolutionary psychology although that is likely a piece of the answer to this puzzle. Everything we can learn about God’s creation is a part of the answer to the puzzle.

    It seems to me that both of you make dogmatic statements about this particular issue that are extrapolated from the data interpreted through particular framework. They are not conclusions demanded by the evidence. Maybe you are right, maybe not. But taking a hard line dogmatic approach is damaging to the very dialogue we need to be having in the church.

    Make your case – but do it to persuade. Why is your model better than some other model?

    At this point I will not eliminate other models from consideration without thinking through the ramifications. Theology is part of the puzzle, part of the data, and theological questions have to be dealt with theologically. It seems to me that we have to have a spiral of mutual interpretation – as we look the message of scripture and the form of the material world.

  • Tim


    My argument is not that evolutionary psychology is the whole answer, but rather that recognizing its importance, as you put it, as a piece of the puzzle (I would argue a very significant piece), is the next step in applying scientific findings on our evolutionary heritage with respect to the question of sin. So I don’t know that we are disagreeing here.

  • Tim

    …and as far as making my case for the relevance of evolutionary psychology, I think that ground has been rather thoroughly covered in my previous conversations with Dopderbeck on these threads – specifically those focused on inherited biological proclivities relating to greed, lust, aggression, etc.

  • rjs


    I must admit that I didn’t read every word of the sometimes very long comments in those discussions (both yours and dopderbeck’s). But I tend to agree with David, reducing sin to inherited biological proclivities doesn’t cut it. Theologically there is something more. This is where I find the discussion and what comes off sometimes as “dogmatic assertion” regarding sin and the Fall as unconvincing. This will come up again with the next chapter in Denis’s book – next week I hope.

  • Percival

    I don’t think we need to “reduce” sin to biological proclivities, but do we need to restrict it to non-materialistic elements? Might it not be that Sin (as passed on through the seed) is spiritual, biological, psychological, and social? And if we are labeling “it” Sin (capital S) aren’t we using a theological category that is not even present in the Genesis narrative?

    We have all sinned and fall short of being able to glorify God, but is that the same as having an inherited sin nature? The question that arises for me is what kind of (fallen?) nature did Jesus have? If he was fully human and tempted in all ways, then he must not have had any biological advantage over all of us who have fallen short of being able to glorify God. But by resources available to us all (now) he was able to be without both Sin and sins. In other words, his full potential to sin was there, but he overcame it by faith, submission and unity with the Father.

    This whole dynamic should help to inform our theology about the extent of the human sin nature. I’m in way over my head here. (But where else would I want to be?)

  • Tim


    If you think that my arguments amounted to reducing sin to biologically inherited proclivities, then you would certainly would have failed to properly read my arguments. You seem to see yourself siding with David against my position, when I still don’t see where we are disagreeing.

    I think you are casting my view in some materialistic, hyper-evolutionary light. My argument has always been that sin is more than just our proclivities, but rather relates to exercising our free will in indulging those proclivities against God’s wishes for how he would like to see us live our lives. But really, that is our current state of sin. We currently have a conscience with the stamp of the image of God, and we have rather potent biologically inherited proclivities as well. There is constant tension between the two, and in this lifetime it will never be resolved.

    As a practical matter, every man, woman, and child will at some point (likely frequently) capitulate into indulging their biological proclivities in manners that conflict with their conscience and will of God – no matter how pious they endeavor to be, or how much they wish to put God in the driver’s seat of their life. No one is perfect. My argument is simply that evolutionary science and anthropology inform us that it has likely always been so, and that those such as David who argue otherwise, that there was some time when some small group of ancient covenantal people were perfect (perhaps a pair of Neolithic farmers), are really just grasping at ways to hold onto some historicity of the Genesis 2-3 story constructed outside the bounds of anything that could ever be “disproved” (and therefore is safe in the minds of the one inventing the account), rather than recognize that the Genesis 2-3 story has such strong mythic tones and so many of its accounts discredited by modern science that perhaps its best assign it to the genre of morally instructive myth.

  • rjs


    I don’t think David is holding to Gen 2-3 in and of itself, nor am I. If Gen 2-3 stood alone there would be no problem. The passage clearly is not a literal history or a description of biological origins. I don’t think that Denis Alexander is grasping at ways to hold to a historicity of Genesis either, although I could be wrong here. Gen 2-3 is not the core issue.

    The issue is in the question of message and theology not incident, and only very peripherally and loosely in Gen 2-3. The teaching on sin, accountability, universality, and atonement, particularly in the NT and most significantly in Paul … these are the sticking points.

    This is where you, or Denis Lamoureux, or others need to concentrate effort and make counter proposals. Ridiculing Alexander, as an example, is counterproductive, both as a way to deal with a Christian brother, and as a way to help the church move forward. Where is he wrong, why is he wrong, and where do we go from here – retaining an atmosphere of civil discourse. This can be productive.

    We can’t get hung up on deconstructing Gen 2-3 – but need to productively look at the theology of sin.

  • rjs

    Percival (#23),

    I don’t have time just now to deal with this – but basically I think I agree. And this is the kind of conversation we need to be having (I am somewhat over my head as well).

  • Tim


    I’m heading out to work so I can’t type much. But David understands Paul’s theology in light of the “fall” in Genesis 2-3. This is where my past arguments have been directed. I understand what we are talking about is Paul’s theology of sin. It is this that my past arguments have been directed toward. I have argued that Genesis 2-3 should be interpreted along the lines of morally instructive myth that highlight the separation sin causes from God, but that Paul’s theology concerning the origin of this separation is incorrect. Perhaps you could argue that this aspect of Paul’s theology was “incidental.”

  • normbv


    I agree with you, RJS, Denis Alexander and Denis Lamoureux. I believe there can be developed a synthesis that is theologically correct and is anthropologically consistent as well. However I agree that David’s idea about a human pair that was given some biological aspect of sin awareness is off base “if that accurately reflects David’s thinking”.

    However I’m not sure you have grasped Paul’s theological positions properly either regarding sin in the covenant context of scriptures. Go back and read my post #8 and see if you agree or disagree with what I’m presenting concerning Paul and his ideas on “sin”. I think this is the weakness in yours and Lamoureux’s arguments and appears to be an inadequate appreciation for what Paul is actually theologically postulating about the origins of “the sin”.

  • pf

    If you start with facts and reason and work from there, this all becomes a lot less complicated. Fact is that man evolved. That tells me that A&E didn’t exist.

    Did god inspire an ancient to write a myth in order to illustrate an ontological point about original sin? Maybe. But it is much more rational and likely to conclude that Genesis is an ancient myth written by pre-scientific people to explain where they came from. It’s a nice story, but they were wrong.

    Neither Jesus nor his contemporaries knew about genetics. Did he (and the authors of the NT) believe that A&E were literal? Probably, and if he did, he was wrong.

  • Tim

    Normbv (28),

    After reading your post #8, I have a couple things I want to say:

    First I want to thank you for tying in Ephesians 2:15. I think this adds some insight to Paul’s message in Romans 5.

    Second, I think you are focusing on Romans 5:19 far too heavily. Both Romans 5:12 and Romans 5::18 (the verse immediately proceeding the verse you are focusing in on) use the descriptor “all” to refer to sin and the results of sin with respect to humanity. So Romans 5:12 and Romans 5:18 use “all”, and Romans 5:19 uses “many”. How to reconcile? I would suggest that Greek word for all, ‘pas’, doesn’t always means literally “all” in the NT. As Strong’s concordance notes, it often means “some of all types.” This means some of any class, group, category, etc. So this reconciles the “all” with “many”. After all, “all” won’t be made righteous (I presume some will still go to Hell according to Paul’s theology for rejecting God), that’s why Romans 5:19 uses “many”, but “some” of “all” types will be. That was the point behind Romans 5:12 in conjunction with Romans 5:18.

  • Tim

    …realized I didn’t wrap this up at the end. I wanted to conclude by saying that whether you translate the Greek word ‘pas’ in Romans 5:12 & Romans 5:18 as “all” as taken literally, or all as meaning “some of all types”, neither translation is compatible with the point you are making, that Paul was trying to reveal “death” and “condemnation” as caused by Adam’s sin/fall as coming only to a select covenantal people, as this would be contrary to “some of all types.”

  • Tim

    …on further reflection, I think that ‘pas’ in Romans 5:12 & 5:18 is meant to be taken as both “all” literally and “all” as in “some of all types.” The idea is that it simultaneously refers to “all peoples” (as in both Jews and Gentiles) as well as “all persons” (meaning everyone living accept Christ). I think you’ll have to give me a break here as it’s a little late at night for me and I seem to be suffering from some brain fog (Joe vs. the Volcano anyone, or was that “brain cloud”?) 😉

  • Tim

    …with the exception of the last usage of ‘pas’ in Romans 5:18 which was likely meant to be “some of all types” only, not in any way conveying literally all persons. OK, I’m going to bed.

  • normbv


    I don’t dispute that understanding of Paul’s “all” is somewhat a study in contradictions it seems. This is why one must be much more diligent in looking at the contextual environment of Paul’s previous and post thoughts surrounding Romans 5. Paul typically in Romans puts the onus of “all” in the context of believers. This means Jews and Gentiles both are his audience but they are those seeking after God. Paul is writing a thesis on the implications of Law for both the Jew and the Gentile previous to Romans 5 and points out that those under Law [the Jews] take their roots from Adam starting in Rom 5:12. Paul is moving back and forth between the discussions of the two groups of mankind as Eph 2:15 references.

    Let’s examine some of the previous uses of “all” by Paul. Notice the two groups under discussion here where Gentiles are without hope outside of the covenant Law just as Eph 2:12 says, however the Jews will be judged by their Law on their obedience to it.

    Rom 2:12 ESV For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

    Notice next though that the Gentiles who have no law can become justified even though they were not under the Mosaic Law. The reason is in verses 15 &16 because in the present time they will be judged by their hearts which means they have been endowed with the Holy Spirit and they have become God’s Temple through faith in Christ. Paul will demonstrate this as he goes forward in Romans. The Key to both the Gentile and Jew fulfilling the Law is through Christ who Himself is the fulfillment of Law. This is why the Jews will be judged under Law on whether they accept Christ or refuse him as He alone completes the Law.

    Rom 2:14-16 ESV For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. (15) They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them (16) on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

    Next we have the use of all again including both Jew and Gentile stating that they are both under sin. The reason is simple in that there has only been one way to God and that has historically been through the Jews who worshiped YHWH and if a Gentile previous to Christ desired relationship he would have to become a Jew and join the covenant. Adam was the first Jew under law as I believe Rom 5:12-21 demonstrates. It is a moot issue for Gentiles who do not seek God because they are outside God’s venue of relationship so all are sinful. The Gentile is a sinner because he’s outside of God’s covenant and the Jew because he can’t keep the Law and thus isn’t any better off than the Gentile essentially.

    Rom 3:9 ESV What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,

    Next we have a qualifier stating that right standing comes for “all” who believe and have faith in Christ at the present time because now the Gentile can join in without the wall of separation from the Jews and their Law. This is the time of that breaking down of Law.

    Rom 3:22-23 ESV the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

    Notice again below that Paul is continuing to emphasizes that true faithful believers comes not from physical circumcision but from faith which had its beginning with Abraham as the father of “all” including the Nations.

    Rom 4:11 ESV He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,

    Here we are again with Paul pounding home the faithful believer being the “all” and flat out saying that Abraham is the father of “us all”. This is telling us who the collective all are as we edge closer to Romans 5.

    Rom 4:16 ESV That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring–not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,

    Here in Rom 5:12 is the restating of previous points and bringing the illustrations to a conclusion concerning those “all” men. However it is about the beginning of Law and we know that Adam is considered the beginning of Law as noted in verse 13.

    Starting with Adam whom is the origin of covenant Israel we have law and sin in the Garden. Both Adam and Israel are outside the Garden until the Law is removed. As you read the next 3 chapters of Romans you will notice that Paul is fixated on the problem of Law and how Christ was the answer to rid it and bring faithful Israel back to the Garden. Not only true Israel but all who have faith in Christ.

    Rom 5:12 ESV Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned–
    13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.

    Notice here in Rom 9 that Paul again defines who the “all” really are; it is not biological Israel or biological Gentiles but people of faith who comprise the All and so it has been from the beginning with Adam to Christ.

    Rom 9:6-8 ESV But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, (7) and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” (8) This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

    Before I finish though let’s go back to Romans 5. Again it’s fairly obvious that all mankind is not righteous even though Rom 5:18 seems to say this. In fact many Universalist take their cue from this verse thinking that literally this must be so because they mistakenly believe that Adam represents all mankind and so Christ redeems all, but we have seen from Paul that there is this qualifier with his “all” called believing faith.

    Rom 5:18 ESV Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

    Next we see that from Adam to Moses the effect of law was still upon Adam’s covenant offspring bearing them spiritual “sin death” and then the full law was added at Mt. Sinai and things got even worse. Paul just keeps harping on the plague of the Law and we really should understand that the Law was an institution of Israel and that Genesis is a story about their origins specifically Adam.

    Rom 5:20 ESV Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

    Paul is demonstrating his theological understanding of this issue and he does so again especially in 1 Cor 15 but unfortunately very few are able to follow Paul today and Peter even said back then it was hard. But if you study him diligently you can begin to see how he interprets Adam as Israel’s origin for them. They had to have a beginning and Genesis says it goes back to Adam past Abraham. Genesis is not talking about the origins of generic humanity stretched across the globe but is essentially a Jewish account of how they illustrated their ancient origins in the ANE environment.

    If we learn to read Paul correctly IMHO I believe it sheds tremendous understanding upon how the Jews wrote and interpreted Genesis. We see many of the same ideas coming from other second Temple and early Christian writings about how to read Adam but instead we want to read him through philosophy and biology and with a wooden literal approach which destroys the Hebrew story. Once we grasp NT and especially Pauline theology correctly I believe we are then free to explore those issues within the framework of how the literature was written and interpreted by those chosen by God to bring us His Word.

    Sorry I was so long winded but Romans is special to me as it sheds light on Genesis.