The Search for the Historical Adam 6 (RJS)

We have been working through the recent book by C. John Collins entitled Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. This book looks at the question of Adam and Eve from a relatively conservative perspective but with some nuance and analysis. The questions he poses and the answers he gives provide a good touchstone for interacting with the key issues. Later this fall we will look at the question of Adam from an equally faithful, but less conservative, perspective in the context of a new book coming out by Peter Enns entitled The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.

Chapter 3 of Dr. Collins’s book looks at the biblical and extra-biblical texts concerning Adam. In the last two posts we looked specifically at Dr. Collins’s discussion of Gen 1-5 and at the OT and the extra-canonical literature. These sections are not the ones that cause most Christians difficulty though – the New Testament references, and especially the relationship of the creation story to the theology taught by Paul – these are the big issues. I have received several e-mails while working through this series, and the big questions in all of them are theological, not scientific or even biblical (i.e. arising from biblicism). These people are willing to accept the conclusions of science (with some reservations), and have a nuanced view of the authority of scripture (again with some variance). But still, there are serious issues here. The issues begin, but do not end, with the theology surrounding the concept of sin.

This is not a topic easily dealt with in one, or even a dozen, blog posts (or sermons, or academic monographs). There are no quick, pithy answers or rejoinders.

What NT texts cause the most concern for an evolutionary view of human origins?

Where does this impact our theology?

NT references to Gen 1-5 apart from Paul. Dr. Collins breaks his consideration of the NT texts into three categories – the Gospels, Paul, and the rest of the NT. The first and third don’t provide much guidance on the question of Adam. The references to Gen 1-5 in the gospels are passing references, we should not put too much emphasis on them. Dr. Collins suggests that the Gospel writers portray Jesus as one who believed that Adam and Eve were historical and that their disobedience changed things for us (p. 78).  I think that the Gospel writers portray Jesus as a biblically literate Jewish male who was steeped in the scripture and the culture – he was localized in a time and place. What he thought about historicity can’t be discerned, and our opinion of this rests in part on what we take as the consequences of incarnation.

The references in the rest of the NT outside of the writings of Paul are likewise incidental, and the truth claims of the passages do not depend on the historicity of Gen 1-5 or Gen 1-11. The references in Revelation are, by the very nature of the book, clothed in figurative language. The writer of Hebrews (11:4-7) may assume historicity, but it is of no real import to our discussion or his truth claim.

The Teachings of  Paul. The references to Adam and to Gen 1-3 in the writings of Paul are more substantive and require much more care and thought. Some of the references are incidental and subject to the same kinds of caveats above. Dr. Collins points to 1 Cor. 11:7-12, 2 Cor. 11:3 and 1 Tim 2:13-14 as examples of incidental references. The arguments in these passages do not depend on the historicity of Adam. Thus they are only compelling for our view of Adam in the context of some assumption of what scripture must be (what we might class as a biblicist view).

There are three passages, however, that Dr. Collins points to as foundational – where Paul’s understanding of Adam is not incidental to his point. In these cases an argument can be made that the historicity of Adam in some sense is essential to the truth claims made by Paul.  Dr. Collins sees this in three passages – 1 Cor. 15:20-23, 42-49, Romans 5:12-19, and Acts 17:26. Thus he spends most of the chapter discussing these three passages.

1 Cor. 15: Today I would like to consider 1 Cor. 15, where Paul begins with his statement of the gospel.

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4)

Paul lays out his view of the gospel here – Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day, all according to the Scriptures, the plan and prophecy of the OT. This is our creed. In this passage Paul argues that the resurrection of Jesus is real and is essential to the Christian gospel.

and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. … If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15: 14,19)

For a more complete discussion of resurrection Dr. Collins refers the reader to NT Wright’s book The Resurrection of the Son of God.

1 Cor. 15:20-23. So far we have no reference to Gen 1-5, but this changes when Paul expounds on the importance of the resurrection. The issue for our topic here is v. 21,22:

For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

The expressions “in Adam” and “in Christ” are covenantal language.

… to be “in A” means to be a member of the people for which A serves as the covenantal representative. This membership sets up a kind of solidarity, where what happens to the representative affects all members of the group, and vice versa. One prominent Pauline scholar has used the term “interchange” to describe the notion of mutual participation in a common life. (p. 79)

The prominent scholar referred to here is Morna Hooker, specifically her book From Adam to Christ: Essays on Paul. Dr. Collins continues:

The person A is an individual who serves a public role as a representative, and there is no evidence that one can be covenantally “in” someone who had no historical existence. Indeed Paul seems to take for granted that something happened to “all” as a result of Adam’s deeds as a representative, just as something will happen to “all” as a result of Christ’s representative deeds. (pp. 79-80)

But Dr. Collins goes a bit further than this covenant relationship – he sees Paul’s claim as requiring a historical event as well. Adam is not merely representative, but is also a cause – he did something that has consequences for those he represents just as Jesus did something to correct the problem for those he represents.

1 Cor. 15: 45-49. Paul’s argument in 1 Cor. 15 returns to Adam a little further on in his discussion of resurrection.

So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. (I’ve quoted the NASB – Collins uses the ESV)

This text is dense and difficult to interpret. Dr. Collins refers to NT Wright’s discussion of the text in The Resurrection of the Son of God, which he cites and quotes, “with approval” (p. 81-82).  The resurrection of Jesus is embedded in a theology that views embodied humanity as a feature of God’s good creation. The resurrection of Jesus is the starting point for God’s rescue and renewal of his people – as embodied beings. We are not rescued from our embodied nature but rescued to “go on to the promised final state of the final Adam, in which this physical body will not be abandoned, but will be given new animation by the creator’s own Spirit.” (p. 353 RSOG)

From all I’ve read and heard from Dr. Wright on this topic I would venture to suggest that he does not take the position that we must have a historical Adam, nor does he consider Adam and the fall someone or something to dispensed with lightly. Rather we need to hold parts of the story with an open hand and do some serious theological, biblical, and scientific work. Dr. Wright and Dr. Collins both reject a strictly typological interpretation of Adam in this narrative. Dr. Collins quotes Wright:

This [argument from Gen 2:7] is not typological (two events related in pattern but not necessarily in narrative sequence), but narratival: Gen 2:7 begins a story which, in the light of  vv. 20-28, and the analogies of vv. 35-41, Paul is now in a position to compete. (p. 82 quoting p. 354 n. 128 RSOG)

Dr. Collins concludes that Paul’s argument “presupposes Adam as an actual character in the narrative” (p. 82). Adam and the reference to the events of Genesis 2-3 are not incidental to the message of Paul but is an important part of his truth claim. This does not necessarily mean that Adam and Eve are the unique progenitors of the human race (two people from whom alone all subsequent people descend), but that the existence of a real person and a real fall is, according to Dr. Collins, an integral part of the gospel of 1 Cor. 15.

This post is already long – I will return to consider the other two passages, Romans 5 and Acts 17,  in the next post. For now we can consider the significance of the 1 Cor. 15 reference to Adam.

Do you think that Paul’s argument here rests on the historicity of Adam and the fall?

Could the argument rest on the empirical observation of human falleness rather than a person and an act?

On what do you base your argument for your position?

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

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  • DanS

    Michael Reeves provides one of the more concise and cogent summaries of why the historicity of Adam and the fall are essential to the gospel in his article “Adam and Eve” from the book “Should Christians Embrace Evolution”. The full article, which is a response specifically to Dennis Alexader but gets right to the heart of the matter, is here

    A few key points:

    “To remove that historical problem of the one man Adam’s sin would not only remove the rationale for the historical solution of the cross and resurrection, it would transform Paul’s gospel beyond all recognition. For where, then, did sin and evil come from? If they were not the result of one man’s act of disobedience, then there seem to be only two options: either sin was there beforehand and evil is an integral part of God’s creation, or sin is an individualistic thing, brought into the world almost ex nihilo by each person. The former is blatantly non-Christian in its monist or dualist denial of a good Creator and his good creation;(1) the latter looks like Pelagianism,(2) with good individuals becoming sinful by copying Adam (and so, presumably, becoming righteous by copying Christ).”

    Note that this is not a foolhardy charge of leanings toward Pelagianism. What he is driving at is a denial of original sin, the crux of which is the link between the sin of “one man” and the sin nature Paul speaks much of. We sin, if TE is true, not because humanity has been corrupted by Adam’s sin, but only by imitation of some mythical story. If this is the case, then the parallel between Adam and Christ must include the possibility that 1) the resurrection need not be historical and 2) our salvation is more about imitating Christ than being spiritually “in” Christ. Christ can not be savior from sin and death, he can only be an example.

    “It seems that the terms of the Augustine-Pelagius debate are so hard to evade that denials of Adam as the destiny-determining head of humanity inevitably lead towards construing personal destiny individualistically, at least to some extent. And the greater the extent of personal self-determination, the greater must be the tendency to regard Christ as more example than Saviour”.

    In addition, Reeves makes much of the connection between the physical and spiritual in relation to both resurrection and the view of the body.

    “At this point in 1 Corinthians, Paul is at the apex of a long argument dealing with problems that the Corinthian Christians had with the body. As the ultimate answer to their pastoral problems, Paul set out to give them confidence in the reality of their own future bodily resurrection by demonstrating the historical fact of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. The historical reality of Jesus’ resurrection is the lynchpin of his response. That being the case, it would be the height of rhetorical folly for Paul to draw a parallel between Adam and Christ here if he thought Adam was not a historical, but a mythical figure. For if the two could be paralleled, then Christ’s resurrection could be construed mythically, and then Paul’s entire letter would lose its point, purpose and punch.”

    What’s more, this casts a huge shadow over God’s truthfulness.

    “Adam is being declared to be something (the head of humanity) that he is, in physical reality, not. As a result, God’s imputation of sin …(to future generations) just looks arbitrary. There is here no basis for a connection between Adam and the Homo sapiens at the other end of the earth from him, and so God’s declaration that they should share the guilt of Adam rests on nothing other than divine whim.”

    In short, Paul not only believed Adam was an historical figure as cultural Jew, his entire theology depends on it. So for theistic evolutionists to deny an historical Adam is to deny Pauline theology and essentially posit a different faith.

    There is no good compromise between Darwin and Scripture. Trying to meld them together produces a hybrid that distorts Christianity and which secular materialists will reject just as forcefully as any form of Creationism or ID.

  • rjs


    It would help conversation if you would keep your comments shorter. This is on topic – but hard to read and digest the main point.

    I agree with some of the issues raised by Michael Reeves – that is why I am posting on these topics from so many angles. But the solution is not to declare a fact to therefore not be a fact, nor is the solution to declare God a fiction.

    But your last paragraph raises my hackles – this IS NOT about what secular materialists will or will not accept – that is irrelevant and immaterial and should never be introduced into the conversation. This conversation is about a way forward as faithful Christians in the light of what we’ve learned about God’s creation.

    If you want to argue that I have or am neglecting an important point – fine, that is the way we all learn, me included.

  • phil_style

    DanS, interesting points from Reeves, but I’m not convinced by his objections.

    Reeves: “To remove that historical problem of the one man Adam’s sin would [not only] remove the rationale for the historical solution of the cross and resurrection”

    This is only an issue if one thinks the cross-&-resurrection is ONLY about solving this “problem” (sin = death and punishment). If the resurrection is about anything else (victory over the fear of death? Exposing the sacrificial/scapegoating mechanism then there is no issue here.

    Reeves:”…it would transform Paul’s gospel beyond all recognition”

    That’s a little presumptuous. It might challenge Reeve’s interpretation of Paul’s gospel…

    Reeves: “For where, then, did sin and evil come from? If they were not the result of one man’s act of disobedience, then there seem to be only two options: either sin was there beforehand and evil is an integral part of God’s creation, or sin is an individualistic thing, brought into the world almost ex nihilo by each person.”

    I don’t see the need for this question. Firstly, it makes a whole lot of assumptions about what sin is. Let’s assume Reeves is right that “sin” is disobedience to God’s Will of one kind or another. If Reeves is going to be incredulous about the idea that sin can be brought into the world by individuals, then he has to apply the same standard to Adam, who, in his theology does that very same thing. If Adam can be disobedient “almost ex-nihilo” why not anyone else? The problem of “where did sin come from” remains whether or not you have an Adam, it just get’s shifted back by one degree of causality with Adam…

    Reeves: “We sin, if TE is true, not because humanity has been corrupted by Adam’s sin, but only by imitation of some mythical story. ”

    Hold on, if WE sin because of Adams sin, why did Adam sin? Once again, Reeves just pushes the origins back by one point, it doesn’t solve his dilemma.
    We sin, because we fear death. Whether TE is true or not.

    “Adam is being declared to be something (the head of humanity) that he is, in physical reality, not. As a result, God’s imputation of sin. (to future generations) just looks arbitrary”

    The imputation of sin looks pretty arbitrary in any case, even with Adam as head.

  • phil_style

    oops, sorry RJS, just saw your reply, and request that comments are kept short. Sorry for my essay.

  • Susan N.

    Yes, the point that both DanS and Phil_Style raised about God’s character being rather arbitrary to judge the whole lot of us cursed by that one guy’s (Adam) mistake is hard for me to make sense of. OTOH, if humans evolved, then did judgment/the fall occur at the precise point in time when humans had full consciousness of God and, consequently, the ability to make a willful decision to disobey? This raises a few questions for me, based on theology as I’ve always known it…

  • Jonathan

    “Adam is being declared to be something (the head of humanity) that he is, in physical reality, not.”

    Is there any reason that physical descent is required?

    The relevant parallel for Paul is between Adam (as the head through whom death came) and Jesus (as the head through whom life is given).

    In the case of Christ, physical descent is obviously not required, since none of us are descended from him. So why can’t the federal headship of Adam likewise be independent of physical descent?

  • DRT

    Would that the resurrection of the dead would not happen had Christ not been the first? I recognize that this is a bit of a chicken and egg thing so let me elaborate.

    Many first century Jews looked forward to the resurrection of the dead, right? So prior to Jesus rising there was a belief held by many that resurrection will happen. Now, did Jesus resurrection cause the final resurrection to happen, or is it evidence that the final resurrection is indeed real. So “in Christ” means that it is proof of the validity of the claim that all will rise.

    So too for Adam. Does Adam’s sin cause all to sin, or like Jesus and the resurrection, is Adam’s sin representative of the validity of the claim that all sin.

  • Amos Paul


    My humble opinion is that your comment was topically specific enough.


    I think those comments of yours assume a lot concerning the definition and necessary conditions of sin, and it does not outline those pre-assumptions in any particularly clear way.

    For one, it seems to see sin as objective ‘thing’ that we don’t do, but experience. Moreover, it also seems to assume that an unique Adamic state was necessary for the being of this state to have a rational foundation to exist.

    I’m not certain I agree with either of those assumptions, although my opinion does lie somewhere between them I think. I see mankind as inherently sinful and the way the world is as sick with this sin. I don’t see us necessarily having sinned straight out of the womb, but growing up with a seed of rebellion and sickness driving us along with all of our other desires. I believe humans are capable of actively *doing* sin and goodness, although sin likely mars our goodness deeply to its core.

    I see the Adamic story as giving us context for this–that God had a plan for his people to grow and mature in an obedient and healthy manner, but we somehow chose the quick and easy path to maturity and godliness instead (which turned out not be wise at all).

    This spirit of disobedience has sickened us. I do think that a unique stage of humanity must be the bedrock of this story, but I’m not certain that Scripture clearly promises us that it must have been a single man and woman who opted into this route–or if many more humans could have participated in this descent. Nor do I know if this action and its necessary consequences must have been specificall biological, spiritual, both, to what degree, or what. I mean, do we really think that sin is directly and materially caused by the fruit of a certain tree and nothing else? I find this hard to believe.

  • Joe Canner

    As best I can tell, the doctrine of original sin originated with Paul, not with the writer(s) of Genesis. Genesis 3 says that Adam and Eve sinned and the consequences were: pain in childbearing, disruption of the husband-wife relationship, hard work, being kicked out the Garden, and death. It doesn’t say that their sin is passed on to future generations.

    So, did God reveal something to Paul that He didn’t reveal to the writer(s) of Genesis? Or is Paul using Adam here in a representative way that doesn’t require Adam to be a literal person who passed sin on to all of his descendants?

    Or am I missing something?

  • John W Frye

    The first comment by DanS illustrates that this conversation questions his received system of theology (whether DanS wants to recognize it or not). Reeves is DanS’s “authority,” not the texts that RJS wants us to reexamine in light of the question at hand. Therefore, comment #1 does not advance our thinking. As RJS mentions, some of the issues Reeves raises she has already considered. I hope this conversation does not get hijacked by biblicist, reformed systematics.

    Suppose the Genesis creation and fall material is a myth, that is, a truth-bearing Story. To say that if it (he =Adam) is not historical, therefore, means the Jesus’ resurrection is not historical is a crock. We have no eyewitnesses of the events in Gen 1-3, but 100s of eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ. So, the resurrection of Jesus is not in question by this conversation. Secondly, the nature of literature, ANE and modern, is capable of creating Stories that carry truth. Exhibit A: the parables of Jesus. There is no theological problem with Paul correlating *truth* from the Story of Adam and the Fall with truth historically expressed in the events in Jesus’ life. The issue is whether Paul is writing the truth, not whether he is legitimizing the historicity of Adam. I like the way DRT comments on this in comment #7.

  • Fish

    Obviously, Adam and Eve did not exist, yet Christ did. That is the alpha and omega of the entire debate for me.

    We cannot ignore fact in our effort to make the Bible liberally true, because doing so devalues the truth that is the Bible.

  • Amos Paul


    Do you mind drawing out your inferences to conclude how Adam and Eve *obviously* didn’t exist?

  • Robert

    Was anyone asking questions about the historicity of Adam in the 1st Century AD? I’d have thought it was purely a modern question, and in that case, we shouldn’t be surprised that Paul and others accepted him as a real man.

    I’m not sure it matters whether there was a literal ‘first man’ to commit the first sin or not. If there was, that leaves us with the question of how sin is transmitted from one generation to the next. Anyone still think it’s passed down in sperm? However we explain it, the point is surely that human society is saturated with sin, that we all participate in it, and that God’s doing something about it. The rest is commentary

  • Unapologetic catholic

    I am not sure of the details, but the Eastern Churches seem to have a different understanding of original sin that may address some of the objections raised by the first commenter.

  • Amos Paul


    Not to toot my own horn or anything, but the Eastern Orthodox view is basically one of the sources which directly influenced my above stated understanding of humans being inherently driven into sinfulness, rather than having the sin inherited.

    From Wikipedia (simply for a nice summary) —

    “This view differs from the Roman Catholic (Augustinian) doctrine of Original Sin in that man is not seen as inherently guilty of the sin of Adam.[6] According to the Orthodox, humanity inherited the consequences of that sin, not the guilt. The difference stems from Augustine’s interpretation of a Latin translation of Romans 5:12 to mean that through Adam all men sinned, whereas the Orthodox reading in Greek interpret it as meaning that all of humanity sins as part of the inheritance of flawed nature from Adam. The Orthodox Church does not teach that all are born deserving to go to hell, and Protestant doctrines such as Predeterminism that derive from the Augustinian understanding of original sin are not a part of Orthodox belief.”

  • PaulE

    I’m surprised how quickly Hebrews 11:4-7 is passed over. The people in that passage aren’t merely examples, they are called on as witnesses. If Abel is not still speaking, he is not a witness…

    Anyway, a couple thoughts on this discussion:

    Jonathan – I do think physical decent is required. There are two types of offspring. The offspring under Adam are all born in the normal way. The offspring under Christ are born by the Spirit. Check out John 1:12-13, John 3:5-7 or Galatians 4:22-28.

    Joe Canner – I’m sure this will be talked about more when we get to Romans 5, but the way Paul seems to get “original sin” from Genesis goes something like this: 1) death is a penalty for sin, 2) penalties are only given where there is a law, 3) between Adam and Moses people continued to die even though they hadn’t broken a law/command, therefore 4) their condemnation must have come as the penalty for someone else’s law-breaking sin now imputed to them (i.e. Adam’s).

    Also, don’t mean to jump the gun on the Romans 5 discussion, but the Orthodox position seem untenable to me because it breaks down an important parallel. If through Adam we inherited only the consequences of his sin and not also his sin, then how shall we through Christ inherit his righteousness and not just the consequences of his righteousness?

  • rjs

    Paul E,

    I think the reference in Hebrews is viewed as incidental because the point of the passage is faith and the faithfulness of those in the Biblical narrative. The author of Hebrews refers back to the narrative of his Scripture and selects examples from that narrative. The truth claim of the basic theme doesn’t depend on the precise historicity of each character individually. For example, the historicity of Abel is not important to the truth of theological point regarding faith.

  • Joe Canner

    PaulE #16: Thanks, that’s helpful. A couple of questions to help me process this until we get to the Romans 5 post:

    1. Does this mean we are no longer experiencing “original sin” since we have the law?
    2. Even in the absence of law it seems that people were held to account for their actions (Cain’s sacrifice, Cain’s murder of Abel, the Great Flood, Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Onan, the Egyptians, etc.) and there seems to have been some implied law. Is it really possible to say that people died between Adam and Moses without breaking the law?

  • Amos Paul


    The consequences of sin… is sinfulness. The consequences of rightousness… is righteousness. That is a positive purification and forward movement of goodness in your very being, not merely a pardon for wrongdoing.

    Put another way, the wages of sin is death (an existence heading surely towards decay and destruction), whereas the gift of God through Jesus is eternal life (which is a dynamic state of growing, living, and gaining in being).

  • Dana Ames

    As UC#14 notes, the choices in view are not limited to either Augustine or Pelagius. (Augustine is known among the Eastern fathers, but all they really noted of his thought was his devotional writing. His notions on “original sin” were pretty much ignored.) Eastern Christian ideas about this are something else entirely.

    PaulE, in Orthodoxy we don’t inherit Christ’s righteousness. There’s no “imputation,” single, double or otherwise. It goes deeper than that. Because through Baptism we are “in Christ,” we participate in all that he has done for us. It’s not magic; we have to live into all we have received, and so we must be active agents. Neither is it “works,” because Christ has opened up everything; we simply follow him, one step at a time, down into the depths of the humility he took on for us.

    This from Fr T. Hopko:
    “Christ’s victory over death is man’s release from sins and man’s victory over enslavement to the devil because in and through Christ’s death man dies and is born again to eternal life. In his death sins are no longer counted. In his death the devil no longer holds him. In his death he is born again to newness of life and is liberated from all that is evil, false, demonic, and sinful. In a word, he is freed from all that is dead by dying and rising again in and with Jesus.”

    If you read again rjs’ posts on Bouteneff’s book, “Beginnings” you’ll see that there was not a consensus among the Eastern fathers about whether Adam was a single historic person. But their Christology and soteriology, in which there was a consensus, did not require it.


  • PaulE


    Thanks. I do agree it would go too far to say that Abel is logically necessary based on Hebrews 11 in the way one might conclude from 1 Cor. 15 here that Adam is logically necessary to Paul’s argument. Any one of the people in Hebrews 11 could be dropped out of the argument and the whole thing could still hang together. My point is that there is a difference between Jesus mentioning the “days of Noah” and the author’s use of Abel. In the case of e.g. Matthew 24:37, nothing of Jesus’ analogy turns on the historicity of Noah. In Hebrews, though, the author’s point isn’t to give examples for faith by analogy, it’s to build a cloud of veritable witnesses. The author is building an empirical case for the way God works. If his data is suspect, why should we believe his conclusions about it?

  • rjs


    I don’t think the author’s intent is to build up a cloud of veritable witnesses, but to explain the importance of faith in the record of scripture and in instances which we don’t seem to find in scripture.

    Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. Heb 11:1

    This is followed by a long list of examples from the cultural history. Faith and the importance of faith by example in the way God works is the point.

    Ch. 12 begins with reference back to the cloud of witness intrinsic to this entire history. Does it mean that the author of Hebrews, common with his age, took Abel, and Adam, Eve, and Cain to be historical individuals – yes, most likely it does. Does this really matter? I don’t think it does – and I don’t think his argument hinges on it at all (any more than it matters that the Psalmist thought that the earth rested on pillars).

    Now … let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith Here is the point of the passage.

  • rjs


    And I haven’t commented on your mention of Romans 5 because, of course, this will be the subject of an entire post (probably next week).

  • R Hampton

    “For where, then, did sin and evil come from? If they were not the result of one man’s act of disobedience, then there seem to be only two options: either sin was there beforehand and evil is an integral part of God’s creation, or sin is an individualistic thing, brought into the world almost ex nihilo by each person.”

    I’m disappointed by that analysis. Evil and sin were brought into this world by the Fall of Angels, not the Fall of Man.

    The Fall of the Rebellious Angels
    Pope John Paul II, August 13, 1986

    …When, by an act of his own free will, he rejected the truth that he knew about God, Satan became the cosmic “liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). For this reason he lives in radical and irreversible denial of God, and seeks to impose on creation” on the other beings created in the image of God, and in particular on people” his own tragic “lie about the good” that is God. In the Book of Genesis, we find a precise description of this lie a falsification of the truth about God, which Satan (under the form of a serpent) tried to transmit to the first representatives of the human race “God is jealous of his own prerogatives and therefore wants to impose limitations on man (cf. Gen 3:5). Satan invites the man to free himself from the impositions of this yoke, by making himself, ‘like God.'”

    In this condition of existential falsehood, Satan – according to St. John – also becomes a “murderer.” That is, he is one who destroys the supernatural life which God had made to dwell from the beginning in him and in the creatures made “in the likeness of God” the other pure spirits and men. Satan wishes to destroy life lived in accordance with the truth, life in the fullness of good, the supernatural life of grace and love. The author of the Book of Wisdom wrote: “Death has entered the world through the envy of the devil, and those who belong to him experience it” (Wis 2:24)…

  • PaulE

    I guess I see our perspectives as the difference between these sentences:

    Persevere like Frodo did on Mount Doom. If he hadn’t persevered Middle Earth would have been lost. So persevere because you can see how important it is.

    Persevere and you’ll receive what God has promised. Tom, Jen, Frank, and Sally all persevered and testify that they are receiving what was promised to them. Therefore you can trust God too.

    Is it fair, rjs, to say that you see Hebrews 11 like the former (aside from the face that Frodo is obviously fictitious)? And if it turns out that Tom, Jen, and Frank are all fictitious people, would you agree that it erodes the credibility for the conclusion of the latter?

    I’ll save any comments on Romans 5 for next week, but thanks Amos and Dana for your input. Definitely something to consider before then.

  • rjs


    I don’t think your examples make the right distinction – suppose I commented on heroes of the revolutionary war and mentioned Nathan Hale, John Paul Jones, George Washington, Paul Revere and Molly Pitcher believing that all of these were genuine figures in the war who were brave and cool under fire, and made the point that so too must we be brave under fire.

    If it was later shown that Molly Pitcher was a fictional composite – as historians now believe, I think – it wouldn’t undermine my argument in any fashion. She still provides a well known and understood example. If none of the examples were cool under fire – and no one ever was or could be, well that would undermine my argument and message. If I was intentionally lying it would undermine my veracity and point, but an honest mistake wouldn’t, nor would a mistaken notion of the origin of the story of Molly Pitcher.

    Going back to the author and message of Hebrews – the importance of the historicity of Gen 1-11 to his message depends, entirely I think, on our view of the inspiration of scripture. The historicity of Abel is incidental to his point. Genesis 1-11 could be history or it could be a foundational story for the Israelite people and the point would stand.

  • Tim


    Judging from your comments, I’m going to make a few guesses on where it seems you’re coming down, and ask a few questions based on that basis. If I’m wrong (and I very well may be), please let me know.


    1) It seems you’re leaning toward Adam not being a historical figure, or at least being seriously in doubt of the historicity of Adam & the Fall.

    2) It seems you’re inclined to accept the most commonly held interpretation of Paul’s views concerning Adam as expressed in 1 Corinthians 15 – namely that Paul viewed Adam as a historical figure, being the progenitor of our race, and having experienced a Fall from an original perfect state of grace into sin, resulting in an incoherence of state of original sin for all his progeny.

    3) It seems that you’re willing to acknowledge that Paul could very well be wrong (though perhaps you’re not yet fully decided on this point) as pertains to Adam’s existence, humanity’s (i.e., Adam & Eve’s) original sinless nature and subsequent Fall from grace.

    So, now a few questions:

    1) If the above is correct, does this mean Paul may well have misinterpreted the OT with respect to Adam? Where I mean to go with that is we often rely on the Apostles to interpret the OT, revealing new meaning. If Paul’s interpretation of the OT is fallible, does that impact the trustworthiness of other Apostles’ (re)interpretations of the OT text? If so, how significant of an issue is this? If not, why?

    2) Is Original Sin, as Paul seems to understand it as a primordial dramatic fall from perfect grace and subsequent spiritual corruption inherited by all man, “incidental” to Paul’s theological message in 1 Corinthians 15? If it is incidental, why? If something of this magnitude and traditionally understood central import can be deemed “incidental”, how does one then decide what else in Scripture may be “incidental” as opposed to “message” in their exegesis? How is this determination made? What are the guidelines the conscientious Christian should follow? Are these guidelines, if applied, likely to lead to a cacophony of views on central Biblical topics, or a more harmonious consensus? If the former, where does that leave Christianity? If the latter, what is your basis for optimism?

  • Tim

    …”incoherence” in Guess 2 should be inheritance (though perhaps this was a Freudian slip concerning the intelligibility of my post 🙂 )

  • normbv

    This kind of theological discussion is what we should typically be having instead of trying to plug a square Adam into a scientific round hole. Paul comes at Adam theologically or to be more precise covenantal than as a literal first human species progenitor.

    Paul’s usage of Adam in 1 Cor 15 is classically misconstrued because of the difficulty of understanding Paul’s overall premise in this section. In a nutshell Adam is deemed as the head of the old faithful church under the bondage of law exemplified through Israel and Mosaic Temple worship. Paul then contrasts and illustrates that Christ is the last Adam and head of the New Israel [remnant faithful] known as the church post Pentecost. Both are historical yet Adam’s historicity is ancient and meager and is used more for illustrative purposes in Genesis to point toward Christ in Gen 2:24 and 3:15.

    Paul draws from OT and Second Temple literature the need for the ancient beginning of the church and understands that Christ the messiah is the end of Israel’s beginning with a historical Adam.

    One of the most important factors in grasping Rom 5-8 and 1 Cor 15 is realizing contextually when Paul is speaking of spiritual Death instead of physical death, something novice Pauline students seldom comprehend. 1 Cor 15 is notorious for throwing folks for a loop because they can’t decipher that context consistently. One of the most important and instructive verses is in Eph 2:1-5 where Paul sets the context for Spiritual Death more clearly for modern readers in which it is unmistakable that Spiritual Death is the context. Knowing what Paul means by the “DEAD” is so important that it will severely inhibit a correct contextual understanding of both Rom 5 and 1 Cor 15 without that proficiency of discernment.

    Eph 2:1-5 And YOU WERE DEAD in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, … and were by nature children of wrath, LIKE THE REST OF MANKIND. … even WHEN WE WERE DEAD IN OUR TRESPASSES, made us alive together with Christ-

  • rjs


    Your questions are good but you’re getting ahead of me here. At this point I haven’t said anything about my opinion of 1 Cor. 15 (or Romans 5). In fact I am really just trying to put ideas and consequences up for conversation – I don’t have a settled opinion. I would like to look at all sides of the question. The new book by Pete Enns due out this fall will look long and hard at these passages from Paul as well.

    But Paul could be wrong about historicity in Genesis 1-3 and still be interpreting the theological content of Genesis 1-3 correctly. I don’t think that spiritual corruption inherited by all is incidental to Paul’s message (or the gospel).

  • Tim


    Thanks for the reply. I understand of course that you’ve been very careful to keep your opinion close to your chest regarding 1 Cor. 15 and the overall historicity of Adam & Eve and the Fall. My guesses I suppose are a reading between the lines, but I think in some of your questions & comments you may have tipped your hand a bit. But if you’re not willing to go there yet, I of course understand.

    Regarding your last sentence, I would note I’m not inquiring as to whether or not “spiritual corruption” in some general sense is “incidental” to Paul’s message. We all have “spiritual corruption”, which should be obvious (at least among those who maintain a spiritualistic or theistic belief system) as we are hardly spiritually “pristine” by any means. What I was getting at was the etiological explanation for that corruption that Paul proposed based on his interpretation of the Genesis 1-3 account, and the issues of atonement and restoration that Paul then ties into his “message.”

    Basically, it goes like this [Original Perfect State of Grace] -> [Fall from Perfect Grace into Bondage to Sin] -> [Long Stretch of Bondage to Sin via Inheritance of Corrupt Spiritual State] -> [Atonement via Blood of Christ] -> [Restoration into State of Grace] -> [Increasing Growth in Grace *For the Obedient Disciple of Christ*] -> [Perfection in Grace *To Be Realized in Heaven*]

    So, are the [Original Perfect State of Grace], [Fall from Perfect Grace into Bondage to Sin], and the “Restoration” aspect of [Restoration into State of Grace] then all incidental? The rational being that the most likely scenario given humanity’s evolutionary origins would involve, (1) no original sinless/uncorrupt state of perfect grace, (2) no fall from an idyllic state that never existed, (3) no possibility to “restore” humanity to a state that never existed, unless you want to go with the angle that God is “restoring” humanity to what he had always intended them for – but that would be straining the concept of restoration to the point of breaking.

    In any event, it should be clear that what I was inquiring on with respect to Paul’s understanding of Original Sin was broader than just a general state of Spiritual Corruption.

  • DanS

    From NPR. “…John Schneider, who taught theology at Calvin College in Michigan until recently. He says it’s time to face facts: There was no historical Adam and Eve, no serpent, no apple, no fall that toppled man from a state of innocence.”

    Is this not the ultimate conclusion if Darwinism is true? Is this not a polar opposite of what Paul is teaching in 1 Cor 15? Through on man sin, and death as a result of sin?

  • normbv

    As a literal piece, the Adam and Eve story is definitely not historical and factual narrative. I don’t believe the Hebrew writers intended it to be so. We see that Paul recognized fully the theological analogy that Genesis is comprised of. That is why it puzzles me that so many scholars still try to infer that Paul was taking Genesis to an extreme literalness.

    RJS makes a correct point that the usage by the NT writers is often incidental in the framework of how they are applying the context. Jesus used Jonah’s three Days in the belly of the Sea Monster as an analogy to His three days before He was resurrected. This doesn’t infer that Jesus took Jonah literally but understood the implications of the three days in the tomb from a Hebrew implication that His audience could have grasped if they knew the significance of the Three Days from messianic implications. Often we read from an uninformed viewpoint and draw conclusions that aren’t called for because we lack the context and cultural background. I believe this is what is happening when people, even scholars jump to the conclusion that Paul was simply wrong about the historicity of Adam and infer points to him that are not called for. The historicity issue is important but it is cloaked in literature that makes it difficult for us to decipher it properly. Adam’s story doesn’t have to be a factual narrative to have historicity from the Hebrew theological viewpoint.

    I believe what happens is that many are trying to force literalness upon Paul’s understanding of Adam to bolster their science approach. The problem is that you don’t even have to do that if you grasp that Paul is not inferring Adam as the literal first human but as the first of an established faith beginning. So when scholars say that Paul is wrong then they go astray and overstep the conclusions that can be drawn. Essentially they are barking up the wrong tree.

  • rjs


    I don’t think John Schneider is right in all of his conclusions – or is the last word in thinking about this. The brief soundbite in the npr story also does not do justice to the sophistication of his thinking about the issue.

    But more importantly I don’t think it does us any good at all to say that evolution cannot be true because of its impact on our theology. It is fatal to set this kind of a question up as either/or. We need to look at the questions and conflicts much more carefully than this allows. We also need to rest in the conviction that God is the author of all truth and we can explore creation without fear that the findings will eliminate or debunk our faith. Yes we may need to adapt and grow at times, but this is a good thing. We were not created to be static consumers, but to be imaginative “co-creators” with a mandate to fill the earth.

  • Amos Paul


    I see you don’t personally believe that the Hebrew authors intended the Eden story to be literal and factual, but could you cite any argument(s) as to *why* you believe that the story is *definitely* not literal and factual. That’s a strong claim. And does that claim also entail that each and every detail is not meant to be taken factually, or only general details that require a certain biological history of mankind?

    Also, pointing to Jonah as an example is another strong claim. I think a lot of Christians and Jews do and did take that story as factual. Do you have an argument to support this claim in comparison to the previous claim?

  • Larry S

    As a 1 century Jew (without our ‘modern’ scientific worldview), I think it quite likely that Paul believed Adam/Eve were ‘real’ people. He used that belief to make theological points in his writings.

    This seems very similar to Paul believing that a rock followed the wandering hebrews in the desert (1 Cor 10:4). He “believed” the legend about the rock/well that kept the Hebrews supplied with water in the desert and used it to make his theological point.

  • rjs

    Tim (#31),

    I don’t have time to dig into this just now – but will (eventually) get back to these issues.

    But – on your first sentence… I am not always holding my opinions close to my chest. Sometimes (many times) I don’t yet have any real opinions or positions. I am trying to explore, think, and learn.

    I am often thinking in public here – this is how I work through problems in science, and seems to me the right way to I work through issues in theology.

  • PaulE


    Thanks for clarifying your perspective on Hebrews. That’s pretty much the interpretation I expected; and you’re right, it does lead logically to skipping over the passage for this discussion. In your revolutionary war parallel, Molly Pitcher is merely an example of someone brave under fire. But my original claim was that the people in Hebrews 11 “aren’t merely examples.” I see it more like this:

    You’re a test pilot trying to hit Mach 1 and the Secretary of the Air Force tells you the key is to reverse the controls just as you hit the sound barrier or the plane will disintegrate. He reminds you there’s a documentary called The Sound Barrier and the film shows that Geoffery de Havilland was able to keep his DH108 from disintegrating as it hit the barrier by reversing the controls. The film also says Chuck Yeager did the same thing in the X-1. “Yeager reversed the controls and zipped right past Mach 1”, the Secretary says, “so remember: reverse the controls or you’ll be destroyed.” If you later find out the film is actually a “semi-documentary” and that de Havilland never broke the sound barrier, it probably erodes your confidence in the Secretary’s instructions, even though he genuinely believed the film was accurate.

    Yet I think the claim in Hebrews is more incredible still. Abel isn’t presented as a mere example of faith (like Pitcher), nor is Abel presented as merely historical evidence of the connection between faith and pleasing God (like Yeager), but Abel is presented as one who still speaks: a living (though dead) witness that God is faithful in fulfilling his promises to those who persevere through faith. If Abel never lived, yes he can still be an example of faith; but he can’t be considered empirical evidence of the importance of faith, and he certainly can’t be a living witness testifying to it.

    Anyway, that’s all the more I have to say. Sorry for the length.

  • Anderson

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned in any of these discussions about Adam in the New Testament: Paul says that sin entered the world/humanity through Adam. Yet, in Genesis 3, Adam was clearly not the first person to have sinned. Why does Paul focus solely on Adam and make no mention of “the woman” (who later would be named Eve)? (And, of course, the serpent in the story indicates that sin was present in creation prior to the first human sin.)

  • normbv

    @amos paul #35

    I’m making declarative statements based upon my biblical research of Jewish and ANE literature and their method and intention with their writings. Some of the reasons are very simple in that the Adam and Eve story is widely understood to be using symbolism and analogy which is a pattern that permeates Hebrew literature including Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation to name a few. Even though other literature is not written in exactly the same apocalyptic manner there are consistent characteristics and typological themes that permeate and remain constant in all Biblical literature from OT to NT also resonating in second temple literature as well. A prime example is how Paul applies Gen 2:24 as analogically prophetic to Christ and the church in Eph 5:31-32. He does so more than once and we seem to gloss over Paul’s application of Genesis themes without asking why he took such liberty if he was a literalist reading Jew. In essence I can take my cue from Paul and how he used and understood Genesis. This discussion though could hijack RJS’s purpose here and so I’ll leave it at that.

    The Jonah story is classical Hebrew symbolic literature in which the belly of the Great Sea Monster represents the essence of the Gentile Nations in which Jonah represents symbolically Israel. This is a picture of Exilic Israel being cast into their midst when their first Temple was destroyed and they were carried off into exile. The story illustrates Israel’s reluctance to be the priesthood to the Gentiles so God through exile gave them a foretaste of what would transpire through Christ after Pentecost. The three Days is typological and representative of the seven day temple creation week. Days 5, 6 and 7 would be the completion in which Israel comes into the messianic period of redemption bringing the Sabbath Rest through Christ rising from the Dead. [see Heb 4:4-6]. Christ by referring to Jonah is illustrating that He through his death and resurrection is the sign through His three Days in the grave of what Jonah typologically pointed toward. Remember Jonah plays the part of Israel that was not happy that God would rescue the Gentiles and bring them into redemption as well. Jonah is a forerunner prophecy of the Last Days of old covenant Israel redeemed through Christ resurrection in which they go resisting God, thus Christ reference reminder.

  • Amos Paul


    Despite the fact that Paul freely utilized analogy within the Torah, it’s also clear that Paul intended to utilize Adam as a fact that was the dual opposite of the fact of Christ. Paul also, clearly, believed Christ to have been a literal fact. So I don’t think you can conclude that Adam & Even *definitely* are not literal facts from Paul’s usage of them, although I agree that we can still, theologically speaking, disagree in what sense Adam is a fact. Though my opinion is that, if Adam is not a fact in any sense of the word at all, then Paul’s theological argument has some trouble.

    Moreover, I hold the same for the story of Jonah. Just because something has deep symbolic meaning is no reason to assume it’s not an actual fact when Jesus himself cites it as such. See, for instance, Matthew 12:41 where Jesus says that the men of Ninevah repented at the preaching of Jonah.


    That’s an excellent point you bring up. That definitely pushes our understanding of in what sense Adam is to be taken as a fact. I wonder if Adam represents some sort of conscious and informed decision on the part of humanity to willfully oppose God and enter into decay, whereas Eve may have only represented humanity being naively tricked into disobedience?

  • normbv

    Amos Paul,
    I haven’t inferred that Adam did not represent a historical person and in fact I hold to that proposition myself. What I am stating is that in the literature of the Hebrews, they were much more creative with what we mistakenly consider a literal historical narrative. We impose our literalness upon a much more robust and symbolic medium of expression that indeed considered Adam as a historical progenitor of Israel.

    Your assumption that Jonah is a literal story is very likely based upon presuppositions that have been handed down to us from those who did not know how to handle such literature. When one doesn’t understand something often the default approach is just to declare something as literal to cover our bases. One would have to demonstrate your conclusions are better than what I’m presenting and stating that you understand what Christ understood about Jonah isn’t a definitive conclusion.

  • Amos Paul

    You’re certainly free to believe that Jonah isn’t an actual story, but your motivations for doing so are, at best, unclear. Jesus talked about the people Jonah called to repentance as being actual people, cited Jonah’s time in the belly of a great fish as an example of His coming time in death, Jonah was widely considered to have been an actual prophet with Divine exprience in the Judaic tradition, etc.

    The only reason I can possiby suppose that one would rather read it as a non-factual story is that it involves a strange incident we wouldn’t, otherwise, expect to be possible. Of course at that point, we might as well assume that Jesus didn’t *really* turn water into wine, rise from the dead, or that Ezekiel didn’t call fire down from Heaven, or that the disciples didn’t really heal anyone in the name of Christ.

    If that’s your view, though, I’m afraid that our readings of Scripture are never going to draw similar conclusions.

  • Amos Paul

    *I typed Ezekiel instead of Elijah somehow. Weird.

  • normbv

    Jesus, the prophets and the Apostles lived in the world of parable language and literature. Jesus spoke extensively through parables, the goal is to learn discernment in determining when these stories were being employed and also whether reference to people denoted in them are to be taken literally. I’m not saying the job is easy and in fact it is difficult at best considering our distance from their culture and worldviews. However we shouldn’t revert back to a position that if we have to reclassify a story we once thought was literal should be understood through parable language doesn’t detract or reduce the authenticity of Christ or the point they are making. If one decides they need to continue believing that Jonah is a literal story for faith sake then so be it. Each person has to come to these conclusions through their own Berean examination for themselves.

    A prime example is the story of the rich man and Lazarus in which the story is a parable but still many do not recognize it as a parable style and form theological concepts from mistaken conjectures. We need to be careful in coming too forcefully with conclusions that others are mistaken when perhaps we simply may not have all the facts and information available to us. It’s often what we don’t know that causes problems for us in setting doctrine. One’s slippery slope may be another’s well investigated conclusion.

  • Patrick

    I also wonder myself about this question.

    If Adam all the way until Moses(post crossing the Reed Sea of course) is myth, why aren’t Moses, Joshua, David, Jeremiah, Isaiah and all the alleged authors of Scripture?

    How can we tell who is and who is not? What clue is there?

    I still believe there is no logical reason for us to think Adam is a myth. IMO, we are reacting to the false narrative of a literalist reading of Genesis needlessly.

    An accurate reading gives us no idea how old homo sapien would be and the text lends itself to at least an intra species evolution. Thus, no need to mythologize Adam because of a false debate between “Adam” and science.

  • DRT

    Amos, really? Jonah is not real just because of the fish, though I think that gives an undeniable cue that the story was meant to be not literal. Like the talking snake. Anyone who would hear that story would immediately know what was going on.

    But that has nothing to do with the miracles of Jesus. We have multiple accounts written to attest to actual events. Quite a different genre.

  • Amos Paul


    Yes, really. The Scriptures and Judaic traditions treated Jonah like a real person who did real things. This isn’t something that would have been hidden in the mists of proto-history like the Judaic fore-fathers and Creation stories–it was a prophet with a reputation.

    I understand (and advocate for) attempting to understand the text and stories along the lines of what they are, and not merely what we want them to be, but I see no cues for supposing the story wasn’t trying to talk about an actual person. Seriously, Jesus ranks Jonah’s work with the Queen of Sheba’s meeting with Solomon.

    If you want to comprehend Jonah 2 as being allegorical for saying that he was eaten by the sea for 3 days–rather an an actual creature–that’s your decision and incidental to the story. I have no problem accepting the story at face value, though. It’s actually kind of a funny book. Especially since Jonah’s such an arse.