Out of Egypt? … Say What? (RJS)

Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan and a self proclaimed evangelical (because there is no other kind), posted 10 Reasons to Believe in a Historical Adam on the Gospel Coalition website last week.

His post has, I am sure, many supporters and has drawn some response from those who are less sympathetic. Pete Enns posted his thoughts on DeYoung’s reasons, as did James McGrath. I don’t want to repeat their comments here or add many of my own. None of DeYoung’s reasons are particularly novel, they are arguments that we’ve discussed in the context of a something like four dozen posts over the last several years (look under Adam in the Science and Faith Archive for many of these posts). A number of DeYoung’s reasons came up in our discussion of C. John Collins’s book Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. In fact, Collins is sympathetic with several of the reasons DeYoung gives (and less sympathetic with others, although DeYoung still recommends the book).

In this post I would like to focus in on two of DeYoung’s reasons:

5. The genealogies in 1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3 treat Adam as historical.

6. Paul believed in a historical Adam.

… and pose them as questions, not to debunk or ridicule them, but to continue the conversation.

Does it matter that Luke 3 treats Adam as historical? If so, why?

Does it matter that Paul believed in a historical Adam? If so, why?

There are generally several lines of thought behind these reasons. I think it likely, as does Peter Enns, that Paul and Luke both thought Adam was a historical individual and that he was progenitor of the human race, or at least of Israel. Paul was a first century Jew familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. As far as I can tell he would have no reason to have questioned the historicity of Adam. I doubt that God cleansed him of his misconceptions about cosmology or biology or history before inspiring him to preach, teach, and write about Jesus Christ. The historicity of Adam may or may not fall into this category.

Luke was a first century Christian and, whether Jew or Gentile, he too would have no reason to question the historicity of Adam. He certainly knew scripture and used the genealogies recorded in Chronicles and Genesis to construct his genealogy of Jesus.

But the veracity of scripture is at stake. I have heard the argument put this way at times: Genesis 1-11 shows literary evidence of story and appropriation of and restructuring on Ancient Near Eastern myths. Even Origen as early as the first half of the third century commented on the figurative and literary elements of Genesis as he responded to the criticisms of Celsus (an ancient Dawkins it appears). But Luke and Paul settled the matter for Christians. In the inspired text of the New Testament we have clear confirmation that Adam is a unique historical individual, first in the lineage of Jesus. Failure to interpret Adam as a historical individual invalidates the message of Luke concerning Jesus and undermines the authority of scripture.

To what extent though, does an Old Testament allusion in the  New Testament constrain the interpretation of the Old Testament?

As an amateur reader of scripture one passage has long shaped my approach to these questions.

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Mt. 2:14-15)

Many times when growing up I heard teachers and preachers extoll the way God fulfilled His prophecy, giving us confidence in His power, His faithfulness and His Son. In this passage Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1, of course he neglects the first part of the phrase and the entire context of the passage.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,  and out of Egypt I called my son.  But the more they were called,  the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals  and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,  taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. “Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? (Hosea 11:1-5)

This certainly doesn’t seem like a Messianic prophecy, or for that matter, anything other than a description of Israel and a reference to the Exodus.

Does the use of Hosea by Matthew demand that we read this as a Messianic prophecy? Is the veracity of scripture at stake if we do not? Does failure to find this a Messianic prophecy invalidate the place of Jesus as Messiah?

This is a passage I had wrangled with long before reading Inspiration and Incarnation, as bored with a message I perused the notes and cross references in my Bible (no wonder the church is turning to scripture projected in tight little bits on a screen). But it also comes as no surprise that the passage is dealt with in the chapter on The Old Testament and Its Interpretation in the New Testament.

Hosea’s point here is that Israel is God’s child, his son, and he loved him. So he delivered him from Egypt. But, in return, the Israelites turned to idolatry. This passage is not predictive of Christ’s coming but retrospective of Israel’s disobedience.

It would take a tremendous amount of mental energy to argue that Matthew is respecting the historical context of Hosea’s words, that is, there is actually something predictive in Hosea 11. (p. 133)

So why did Matthew use Hosea this way? We will never know for sure, But some things are clear. Enns puts it like this:

Matthew was motivated by his conviction that Christ is the focus of Scripture … It is because Matthew knew that Jesus was the Christ that he also knew that all Scripture speaks of him. (p. 134)

Likewise Paul and Luke knew Jesus, and they knew that all Scripture speaks of him. They knew, as we should know also today, that Jesus as God’s Messiah is the culmination of God’s work in the redemption of Israel and of all mankind. Luke uses the genealogy to make this point. Jesus, descended from David, and thus from all Israel back to the beginning, is God’s Messiah. Whether Luke thought Genesis and Adam were literal historical accounts or not plays no substantive role in his use of the text. He would have used the text in the same manner either way. And, as Matthew illustrates, the veracity of the New Testament message is not constrained by the use made of specific Old Testament texts. There is a broader Christological message that underpins the New Testament, and this is where we place our faith.

The question of Paul, at least in some of the passages, is more problematic. Not because Paul believed or didn’t believe Adam was historical. I don’t think that makes any real difference at all. But rather it is more problematic because there may (or may not) be a more significant connection between Paul’s knowledge of Jesus and the way he ties this to Adam. And this will leads us to a discussion of the next section of The Evolution of Adam. But even here the message and use of Scripture is completely Christ centered. After all Paul told Timothy:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

I expect there are many who disagree with much, or even all that I’ve said. And perhaps even some who are left spinning with the leap from Matthew to Luke and Paul, trying to find the point. So what do you think?

What should we learn from the way Matthew, Luke, Paul, or other New Testament writers use or allude to the Old Testament?

What is your underlying assumption about scripture?

Do you agree with DeYoung? Why or why not?

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

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  • phil_style

    This is a general observation.
    Having read the 10 reasons at Kevin DeYoung, and given the fact that he is making historical claims, I am somewhat perturbed by the fact that none of the claims are based on historical evidences. All of the claims are theological/ literary.

    From outside of the faith, onlookers must wonder how we can construct all of this doctrine without any apparent reference to archaeology, geology, biology and historical science.

    I would like to see a list of 10 historical reasons to accept a historical Adam. That would seem less like “angels on a pinhead” and more like something we can engage others with.

  • Robert

    How does Luke’s descritpion of Adam as ‘son of God’, jibe with Paul’s use of him as a type of sinful humanity?

  • scotmcknight

    phil_style, You have nailed it in my view. To argue “this is historical because the Bible is inspired, and therefore historical” is not a historical argument. If you enter the game of history, you play by the rules– and none of history’s rules permit a privileged, uncritical reading of any text.

    It’s a perfect illustration of accommodation to modernity: modernity argues empirical evidence is what counts; history plays by empirical rules; to play the game of history is to play by those rules. So, if you want to argue Adam is historical you have to prove, on historical grounds, that Adam is historical.

  • Of course Luke and Paul would refer to Adam in a historical sense, they had no reason not to. They lived and breathed Israel’s story of Creation, Covenant, Exodus, Kingdom and Exile. But then Israel’s story didn’t exist to answer scientific or historical claims, it had other reasons for existing.

    phil_style and Scot: excellent points you make.

  • To be fair, Kevin is not looking for neutral, empirically verifiable historical evidence for the historicity of Adam on this one, and I don’t think he’d say he was (what would it look like, I wonder?) His argument, I assume, is (1) Paul and Luke talked about Adam as historical; (2) Paul and Luke were inspired by God when they said this; (3) Paul and Luke were therefore speaking accurately when they said this; therefore (4) Adam is historical. Kevin may correct me on this, but I don’t think that’s an argument based on empirical rules. Presumably, it’s the link between (2) and (3), above, which phil_style and Scot (and RJS?) disagree with? The whole conversation is ultimately about inerrancy, methinks …

  • PS. Where is Eygpt? No inerrancy problems there :o)

  • phil_style

    @Andrew, I think we were being entirely fair to Kevin. His reasons for positing history are not historical. None of the ten reasons proposed by Kevin are historical, they are all literary and theological. I might accept his point that there is a theological or literary necessity to posit Adam, but that’s not where the train terminates, because Kevin proposes historicity without reference to any empirical methods for demonstrating that historicity.

  • @Phil: I agree with you that he is arguing for historicity without empirical methods for demonstrating it (outside of the inerrancy of Scripture, of course). I disagree with you that this is a problem, because I think (1) to (4) make sense within an inerrantist perspective (Paul says x is historical, therefore x is historical). That’s all; I don’t want to get into an argument about “positing history” 😮

  • RJS

    Andrew (#5),

    Exactly, it is the connection between your 2 and 3 that I am challenging.

    The theological reasons DeYoung gives have more substance and need to be addressed differently. I don’t think those require us to affirm a historical Adam in the sense that the biblical writers thought of Adam. But they may require a view that retains the overall concept of Adam. Enns doesn’t like that approach because it imposes a construction that goes beyond what the bible writers intended, but it is a conversation we need to have.

  • Joe Canner

    To borrow terminology from The Bible Made Impossible (which I am currently reading so it is the first thing that comes to mind)…

    A Christological reading of Genesis points to Jesus as the solution to the broken relationship between God and His creation. A Biblicist reading of Genesis, the Gospels, and Paul tries to use the latter two to validate details found in the first, which is a misuse of the intention of all three.

    Not to mention that there is no logical reason why a literal Adam is required to validate the arguments of Luke and Paul regarding the role of Jesus in history. Luke’s geneology is meant to prove that Jesus is a human being and a Jew, which doesn’t require a literal Adam. As for Paul: the OT as well as the entire history of the world and the content of our hearts and minds testifies to man’s fallen nature and need for salvation.

  • phil_style

    @Andrew, I think it turns out we are saying the same thing 😉

  • phil_style

    As an additional point, I take issue with DeYoung’s Point

    “The opening chapters of Genesis are stylized, but they show no signs of being poetry. Compare Genesis 1 with Psalm 104, for example, and you’ll see how different these texts are”

    Just because Psalm 104 is different to genesis says nothing about the poetical or otherwise nature of Genesis. This argument reflects, for me, a very poor understanding of literary history. Why does the rules of post 10th century poetry (psalms) apply to Genesis? I might as well just compare Genesis with “ring-a-ring-a-rosie” to make the same point.

    Why does DeYoung not compare Genesis with the Epic of Gilgamesh which is likely to be much more contemporaneous, and is accepted widely as poetry? This text is very comparable to genesis:

    “A notorious trapper came face-to-face with him opposite the watering hole.
    A first, a second, and a third day
    he came face-to-face with him opposite the watering hole.
    On seeing him the trapper’s face went stark with fear,
    and he (Enkidu?) and his animals drew back home.
    He was rigid with fear; though stock-still
    his heart pounded and his face drained of color”

    DeYoung goes on to invalidate any arguments based on poetry when he says that this genre does not necessarily determine historicity. So why does he bother referring to the above argument, which is rather weak?

  • Alan K

    I think Andrew is right. The whole issue seems to be: “The Bible needs to be a certain kind of book for it to be trustworthy.” For DeYoung, the reliability of Scripture requires a historical Adam, or else God told Paul and Luke to write things that they thought were true but really were not (“historically” speaking)–something I conclude must be impossible for DeYoung.

    My sense (two cents?) is that in all the conversation over the past several years about the Bible, there has been a way too inadequate differentiation between Word of God and worldview, that the hearing of the former requires the framework of the latter. But are not worldviews by their very nature always changing? Won’t we eventually be worn out by trying to establish the latest, greatest, once-and-for-all true worldview in the hopes that finally we can accurately hear God speak?

  • EricW

    The NT authors’ use of the OT can be a “Does not compute” problem for those who insist upon the historical-grammatical method as the only valid hermeneutic, and when I once asked a DTS-grad pastor if we could use the same hermeneutic when reading the OT that the NT authors used, he in effect said, “Danger, Will Robinson!” and insisted that we could only do so for those OT passages that the NT so did.

  • Rodney

    @14 EricW,

    Precisely. Once you learn in seminary that Paul operated with a different hermeneutic than what we were taught in class to use, then there’s relief for some and increased tension for others, e.g., when we discover that Paul relied upon the LXX to advance his argument–as in Galatians 3:16–rather than the Hebrew text, then we see that he “broke” all kinds of rules. A first-century Jew reads the Scriptures differently than a twenty-first century American.

  • Jeremy

    I’m in the middle of Inspiration and Incarnation, so it’s possible I just haven’t gotten there yet, but there’s one thing that always jumps out at me when the issue of genealogies is discussed. On one hand Enns claims that it was common in ANE literature to start genealogies with a mythical person and end with an historical person. If true, this certainly relieves a lot of pressure. But on the other hand it’s claimed that Paul/Luke believed that these genealogies were entirely historical. I’m not opposed to them being mistaken on the basis of inerrancy, but it’s a little troublesome on the basis of their cultural context. If anyone was familiar with how genealogies were used in the OT, wouldn’t it be Paul (and Luke to a lesser degree)?

  • Ann

    What should we make of the fact that Paul was certain of Jesus’ imminent return? He clearly was wrong about that, but it doesn’t cause DeYoung and others to question the inspiration of his work.

  • EricW

    Touché, @Ann 17. I’ve sometimes wondered if Revelation should perhaps be viewed as being a “failed prophecy” because of its 8 “soon/quickly” statements.* (I guess Preterism somewhat saves Revelation and parts of the Olivet Discourse from being so categorized, and maybe even Paul’s statements that seem to expect Christ’s soon return.)

    * Revelation 1:1, 2:16, 3:11, 11:14, 22:6,7,12,20

  • Jeremy

    Like Eric said, I, for one, tend to see Paul’s statements about Christ’s return in the same vein as the Olivet Discourse and Revelation. IOW, he was anticipating the impending judgement on Israel by way of the Jewish-Roman war. The fallout from this war would have significant life-altering effects on the entire region, and it’s in that light that I read, for instance, Paul’s admonition to “remain as you are”.

  • What I am not hearing addressed by commenters is the necessity of this position based on the view that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. If you hold to strict inerrancy (meaning that the Bible is without error in its original autographs on all Truth Claims), then Adam must have been an historical figure. As much as many want to claim that you can let go of an Inerrancy and still have an authoritative Bible, all the complicated hermeneutics required to come to that conclusion cause one’s head to spin.

    Inerrancy says that if history or science disagrees with the Bible, then the Bible is correct. I hear many on this forum constantly claiming that it is only our “interpretation” of the Bible that disagrees with Science. But when I read so-called “better” interpretations, they are so complicated and convoluted. How could God ever have expected us to understand Origins if he required us to do mental gymnastics to interpret what He said.

    Unless of course Genesis and all the rest were just best-guess estimates made by followers of God. If one holds to that, not only is inerrancy out the window, but so is authority (since one man’s opinion of God carries the same weight as another man’s opinion). If I read the comments here correctly (and please correct me in simple language if I’m wrong) then the Epic of Gilgamesh had as much authority and accuracy as Genesis in terms of origin accounts.

    Kevin DeYoung is not seeking to interact with History. He is seeking to come at the issue from a perspective that the Bible is Inerrant and Authoritative. To require him to relate that to Science and History is ridiculous. That is what cost the European Church its authority in the post-enlightenment years.

  • phil_style

    @Mike “To require him to relate that to Science and History is ridiculous. That is what cost the European Church its authority in the post-enlightenment years”

    I would argue that the inability of the church to relate its message to history and science is what lost it authority.

    “not only is inerrancy out the window, but so is authority”
    Biblical inerracy is “out the window” when it is demonstrated that the Bible is not errant – which is precisely what this is all about.

  • phil_style

    oops, I made a typo in my last, the second half of which should have read:

    “not only is inerrancy out the window, but so is authority”
    Biblical inerracy is “out the window” when it is demonstrated that the Bible is errant – which is precisely what this is all about.

  • RJS


    I think the connection between inerrancy and authority – inerrancy in the 20th century form – is the problem. Here NT Wright and some others are quite helpful.

  • phil_style…thank you.

    You are being straightforward enough in your answer. You are claiming the Bible is not inerrant. Perhaps you are also claiming that historians are not inerrant. Perhaps you believe that we need to be just as careful to find out what the writers of the Bible were really saying as we are in trying to find out what archeology and anthropology is revealing to us.

    I have no problem with being careful.

    But De Young (and myself) are careful with the Bible with this caveat: We believe that God authored the Bible and cannot contain error in propositional truth. That will always be a separating divide. This discussion of an historical Adam will always approach that chasm and though we can speak to each other across it, there is no doubt it will exist until the cows come home.

    When I was in pre-med in the 70s, these discussions on Old earth and Historical Adam had been raging for a long time. New “evidence” has not made the arguments any more appealing or convincing. Though there are many, many questions, the most basic question is how one views the authority and accuracy of the Bible. If we cannot agree on that, the rest of the discussion just widens the gap between us.

    However, I do not believe our standing in God’s family or our relationship with God is doomed just by being right or wrong about this issue. It is a fascinating issue and fortunately the Gospel of King Jesus will save us regardless of whether we are right on the Adam issue.

    Thank you phil_style for your simple answer to my question. It is helpful.

  • The question is, quite simply, if Paul was wrong about Adam, how can we trust anything else he says? If Paul’s whole explanation of how salvation works relies on our having a common ancestor, and we don’t have one, then how do we know his statements about all having sinned and the need for redemption are correct?

    If Paul (or Luke or, especially, Jesus) was wrong about anything, we can’t know he wasn’t wrong about everything. The whole thing becomes shaky.

  • Hey, RJS asked a really good hermeneutical question up there!

    1. What should we learn from the way Matthew, Luke, Paul, or other New Testament writers use or allude to the Old Testament?

    That they used the sacred writings any old way they wanted to make the point they wanted to make about God’s messiah—all breathed-out by God’s Spirit of course!

    The sooner we get a handle on this, the sooner we can get past the ‘evidence that demands a verdict’ and move on toward more persuasive gospeling.

  • RJS…though I have double Masters Degrees, I cannot ferret out Wright’s view on Inerrancy. Perhaps a doctorate in Theology would help, but I can’t be bothered.

    I do struggle with explanations that take hundreds of pages to delineate. Though I recognize nuances in a position on Inerrancy (such as the nature and thrust of imprecatory Psalms, apocalyptic literature, personality and theopneustos combining to write a book of the Bible etc., etc.) the concept is not difficult: If God wrote the Bible through the agency of people, what God claims as Truth is True. Or it isn’t and God is wrong.

    After reading Harnack, Barth, and dozens of others on Inerrancy years ago, I left the issue alone. When I returned to it I read modern apologists and found they were giving updated versions of the same arguments. Either God is a major player in the actual words written in the Bible or He wasn’t.

    If He wasn’t, then all we are doing here is a semantic game. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we have another class in Theology.

  • EricW

    The question is, quite simply, if Paul was wrong about Adam, how can we trust anything else he says? If Paul’s whole explanation of how salvation works relies on our having a common ancestor, and we don’t have one, then how do we know his statements about all having sinned and the need for redemption are correct?

    If Paul (or Luke or, especially, Jesus) was wrong about anything, we can’t know he wasn’t wrong about everything. The whole thing becomes shaky.

    So…What does NT salvation look like if we only read the Gospels and the non-Pauline parts of the NT (and I’m including Hebrews as non-Pauline)? Eliminate the Pastorals and Ephesians and Colossians, too. I.e., what does non-Pauline Christianity say about salvation, Adam, etc., and how important or intrinsic is a historical Adam to the non-Pauline parts of the NT?

  • RJS


    God authored the Bible, but I think he did so by being in relationship with people who wrote about that relationship. Paul and Luke knew Jesus – and they reflect appropriately and accurately on that knowledge and experience. All scripture points us to Jesus. Putting this in terms of proposition doesn’t make much sense to me. Luke states that Adam is historical, therefore we must assume that Adam is historical? Matthew states that Hosea prophesied that the Messiah would be brought out of Egypt therefore we must assume that this is what Hosea is proclaiming in Hosea 11?

    But I appreciate where you are coming from here – this isn’t an easy issue. It isn’t clear when or where a break with the past is the right move. But I think it is one of the more important issues we need to wrestle with for the future.

  • JoeyS


    Paul is allowed to be wrong because his point isn’t ruined by lack of factual evidence. In most eastern cultures it is common to communicate truth through story, myth, folk tale and even skewed logic (from a western perspective). Paul doesn’t have to have a scientific understanding of history to use it to further his message. His message is this: Jesus came to fulfill the story of Israel and establish his reign – the inauguration of His Kingdom. It is of no consequence if Adam never really existed because the story of Adam still contains teachable truth – the depravity of man, the need for restoration, etc.

    Was the author of The Gospel According to John wrong when he claimed that nobody had ever seen the face of God? Because Jacob claimed to have seen God face to face. How can we trust the Gospel of John if Genesis says something different?

  • phil_style

    @Mike cheers, happy to interact!

    this is how the whole thing has played out for me:

    1. My starting position was biblical inerracy. The church’s general interpreted understanding of the Bible was the most authoritative in this respect.

    2. However, I saw this inerracy being challenged not from within the text (although I now consider there to be a number of contradictions within the biblical texts)

    3. My first approach is always to try and review my interpretation of the text to see if, perhaps the reason I find contradiction and or error with respect tot he natural world is because I misinterpret the text.

    4. My final position has increasingly become to let go of inerracy. I don’t mind that the biblical authors thought the world was flat, or that the different authors got various details different from each other.

  • phil_style

    @ChrisB, your thoughts match many that I myself have had too… but I wonder..

    “The question is, quite simply, if Paul was wrong about Adam, how can we trust anything else he says?”
    Let’s say that S.t Paul has said that Queen Elizabeth II would rule England for 6 weeks and then die in a car accident. Are you suggesting we would have no way of verifying the truth of this claim?

    If Paul’s whole explanation of how salvation works relies on our having a common ancestor, and we don’t have one, then how do we know his statements about all having sinned and the need for redemption are correct?
    Paul states that all have sinned before he set’s up the Adamic sequence. He does not rely on it for that formulation. Look around you, do we need redemption?

    If Paul (or Luke or, especially, Jesus) was wrong about anything, we can’t know he wasn’t wrong about everything. The whole thing becomes shaky
    If there was no guarantee of salvation, would you still be a christian? would you still worship God if he did not promise you heaven? Does the Christian life make any difference in the here and now that is worthwhile?

  • Jon G

    only slightly tagential to this post, but SO FUNNY, I had to share…


  • dopderbeck

    The discussion, IMHO, is not properly centered. I really don’t think it centers primarily on “inerrancy.” You can have a notion of inerrancy or infallibility and understand that Luke uses genealogies in one way, Paul refers to “Adam” in another way, and neither of those are explicitly “historical-scientific” references along modern lines. This is most obviously the case concerning the synoptic Gospels and their genealogies, which can’t really be harmonized with each other, which have various gaps, etc. — clearly at least to some degree Luke’s genealogy is a literary / theological construction.

    But that said, I do think there are important theological problems with saying that key figures in salvation history never existed at all. Part of the problem is the integrity of the Biblical narrative — not under some woodenly inerrantist hermeneutic, but under a hermeneutic that takes the overarching narrative as a broadly true picture of God’s dealings with us. And part of the problem is an important feature of that narrative: human beings, at their primal root, share both a great glory and a great failing.

    So again I opt for a middle position: the Biblical narratives are not modern historical-scientific reportage. They are theological constructions and their primary purpose is to reveal Christ. The fact that they are constructed in creative and ancient idioms, sliced and diced and rearranged for obviously polemical and teaching purposes, isn’t “error”: the “error” is for us to demand something other than what God gave us. Yet the narrative they disclose is “true” even if we can never get “behind” the text to identify, say, the “historical” Adam or the “historical” Abraham. God interacted with the people identified in the narratives in space and time and has acted redemptively in space and time and continues to act redemptively in space and time with us.

  • Chris Criminger

    As I listen to the usual back and forth on this issue, I will play the Devil’s advocate and ask, “Who cares what the Bible says when we have archaelogy, geology, biology, and the historical sciences?” Did God say and what did God say anyway?

  • AHH

    Should the fact that the genealogies of Luke and Matthew are different be a clue that they are written to make theological points, not as claims to perfect history?
    And that, if we read them as theological prelude rather than attempted history, the discrepancies do not negate a reasonable doctrine of inspiration?

    I know that some have tried to reconcile this by making one genealogy maternal and the other paternal, but that always struck me as unjustified special pleading.

  • RJS


    I’m not sure if you are saying that my post isn’t properly centered, or DeYoung’s arguments are not properly centered. Based on your comment I don’t think we are very far apart (if at all) on the middle position approach in general. I am putting to the side the actual question of the historicity of Adam because I think that in itself is a slightly different issue.

  • RJS

    Chris (#35)

    Archaeology, geology, biology, and the historical sciences cannot address the question of God’s redemptive action in this world. The cannot tell us that all have sinned and that Christ died for us. They cannot tell us that we are all one in Christ Jesus. God’s messaaage in scripture and purpose for scripture is, in my opinion, first and foremost Christ-centered. This is where I stand. My stake is not Adam, but Christ, and not the empirical fact of his existence but who and what he was and what he accomplished. This is the message of scripture – so it seems to me.

  • D. Foster


    In reference to Matthew’s use of Hosea. “Fulfillment,” in the sense Matthew uses it, is an idiomatic idea that is characteristic of texts from late Second-Temple Judaism. The basic premise among the Jews at this time (maybe later Rabbis as well?) was that the redemptive, *covenant* history of Israel portrayed in the Scriptures exhibits patterns of God’s dealings with his people that are repeated. Israel is chastised by God for their sins as a sacrifice (Isaiah 53; Daniel 9; 2nd Maccabees 7); Israel becomes overrun by their enemies as punishment; Israel repents and turns back to the Covenant; God raises up a figure to deliver them (Moses, Gideon, Samson, David, Cyrus the Great, Judah Maccabee, etc.)–these patterns occur numerous times in the Scripture.

    To First-Century Jews, this history points to a future in which God will act to bring the Covenant to a climax. Israel is chastised for the last time; they are already overrun with enemies; Israel will repent and turn back to the Covenant completely; God will act to raise up a last deliverer for a final confrontation with Israel’s enemies: all of this will climax in a new age of history where all of the promises to Israel in the Scriptures will reach their climactic fulfillment.

    The First-Century Jews expected this climactic moment to be right around the corner. Seen from the paradigm above, the events of the present could be interpreted as falling within the grid of God’s divine plan for the End of the Age, and thus be seen to be “fulfilling” (Matthew’s word for “fulfill” in Greek is PLEROO, “to fill to the full, bring to completion”) the Scriptures. This is what Rabbi Akiba had in mind when, a hundred years after Jesus, he believed that the rise of Simeon Ben Kosiba was the fulfillment of Numbers 24:17, “…a star shall rise out of Jacob…” Akiba renamed Simeon with the Messianic title “Simon Bar Kochba” (Simon Son of the Star) and backed him during the Jewish-Roman War of 132-135.

    Matthew’s working from within this paradigm as well. The problem that Jews in his day had was that Jesus did not seem to follow the patterns of Scripture: Jesus suffered and died at the hands of the Romans. How does this fit with the pattern of the Scriptures?

    That’s what Matthew’s Gospel sets out to address. He brings in Psalms by David about suffering to show similarities: Jesus the Messiah suffered just as the greatest Messiah in Israel’s history suffered. Jesus’s life “fulfills” the Scriptures in terms of bringing them to their climax. Matthew’s plays off of the details between individual passages and Jesus’s life. “A virgin will be with child” is not a PREDICTION about Jesus’s birth; Jesus’s birth is the FULFILLMENT of that passage. Just as the birth of child Immanuel in Isaiah’s time was a sign of God’s salvation of Israel from its enemies, so Jesus’s birth is the sign of God’s final salvation of Israel from its enemies. Just as God called Israel out of sin and bondage (Hosea 11:1), so Jesus brings Israel out of sin and bondage forever.

    It’s mostly the later Church Fathers who interpret the Old Testament as *predicting* Jesus in simplistic one-for-one substitution (“a virgin with child” is about Mary and Jesus; “Out of Egypt I called my son” is about Jesus).

    N.T. Wright has tackled this issue in several different places. The one that comes to mind is “New Testament and the People of God.” The passage is on page 241, “According to the Scriptures.


  • DRT

    I’m only up to comment 16…but

    Isn’t Timothy clear evidence of how genealogies should be interpreted?

    1:3 As I urged you when I was leaving for Macedonia, stay on in Ephesus 3 to instruct 4 certain people not to spread false teachings, 5 1:4 nor to occupy themselves with myths and interminable genealogies. 6 Such things promote useless speculations rather than God’s redemptive plan 7 that operates by faith.

    Seems clear to me that genealogies are likely speculation.

  • RJS


    Thanks. I think this idea that as God called Israel out of sin and bondage so Jesus brings Israel out of sin and bondage forever is a key point and I am glad you brought it up. Some of the detail you point to is new to me. We have to be looking for the Christological message of scripture – and we have to stop forcing scripture into our expected mold.

  • phil_style

    a wee addendum: George Murphy’s 2006 paper remains, for me, one of the most interesting articles on this subject: http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2006/PSCF6-06Murphy.pdf

  • Chris Criminger

    Hi RJS,
    I liked your response . . . I will say it might be interesting if there was a historical Adam, and he is in heaven, and others on this list find themselves there, He might want to have a debate on whether you were a historical person or not? (sorry, couldn’t resist).

    Since I don’t believe innerancy or one has to believe in a historical Adam ultimately matters, I will say I for one listen to most people who probably represent Evangelicals and what is being taught in our seminaries and I can’t help but wonder when are we going to quit separating the literal from the figurative and history from theology?

    Do we really need some kind of science to prove the Bible? Where do we find any of these issues or discussions within the Scriptures themselves? Unless we think we are smarter than the earliest followers of Jesus, I suspect they would listen to our conversations today and be shaking their heads at all of us.

    We scrutinize the Bible so much but what if the Bible scrutinized us?

  • JTM

    The first couple posts attacked Deyoung for saying he was making a historical argument, but then not making a historical argument. but look at what he says he is doing:


    the most important question is what does the Bible teach. Without detailing a complete answer to that question, let me suggest ten reasons why we should believe that Adam was a true historical person and the first human being.


    What he is saying here is essentially: The Biblical text teaches that Adam was a real, historical person, like Abraham, like David, etc., so we should believe Adam is so.

    What I am seeing in many comments is the proposition that the bible does not really teach (or really intend to teach)that Adam was a historical person; or that yes it does teach that, but the Bible authors who do so were stuck in an ancient way of thinking and did not know better and were mistaken about that. The fact that someone like Paul, who was mistaken about Adam because he thought in a pre-modern way, built a theology about that mistaken notion (first Adam/second Adam) is not really a problem because the theology can be true even if the historical assumptions underlying it are not.

    I do not presume to “know” or understand human origins. I try my best to keep up with current scientific scholarship on the issue because I do agree that we do not want to be cornered into a position that makes Christianity part of the flat earth society. But I also take the witness and testimony of the Ot and NT very seriously, and believe as a matter of faith that it teaches truth about origins, if properly understood/interpreted, and that in the end both the bible and science are two streams of revelation that meet at the same truth and reality. I do not enswhrine the latest scientific undestandings are infallible, because there is still so much to learn and know, and current scientific understanding can be and sometimes is wrong. I also try not to enshrine a certain interpretation or understanding of biblical texts, knowing understanding of the Bible, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit also matures and clarifies over time.

    I am nowhere near ready to throw out some understanding of a historical Adam, and shuffle him off to pure myth/metaphor/symbolism. The theology of men/women uniquely possessing the image of God, and all the sacredness and dignity that implies, is something I am not willing to surrender to evolutionist athiests who would reduce humanity to the realm of mere animals and beasts, where a cute baby human is no more/less sacred or significant than a cute baby seal.

    Genesis and indeed the whole bible teaches us that is no so. Science at the present time cannot tell us why that would be so, but someday I believe it will, until then, I take the Biblical revelation to be true on that point, and since the notion of Adam is embedded in the Biblical texts regarding that truth, I take the notion of Adam very seriously, and I preach and teach those God entrusts to my pastoral care to also take Genesis and Adam very seriously and respectfully, not assuming that modern man and/or modern science has all the answers or is infallible in its current understanding. At the same time I advise them to also be informed regarding current scientific understanding and to wrestle with how and where it intersects with the biblical text.

  • Chris Criminger

    Wow JTM,
    Good words . . . Then you had to knock evolution (you better start ducking :–)

  • phil_style


    1. It is accepted that DeYoung is arguing historicity based on theological and literary grounds. I personally find that problematic, and so do some others. I could argue for the historicity of Gandalf on that basis.

    2. Others are discussing a separate issue – i.e. does christian theology “require” a historical Adam. That’s a separate issue from the above.

    Issue 1 is a credibility issue. Issue 2 is an issue with respect to internal consistency. I don’t think any individuals here are erroneously conflating the two. They are being discussed in parallel, by people on various places on the spectrum of opinions with respect to each.

    I think your fourth paragraph inaccurately portrays the position of many “atheist evolutionists” by the way, who propose many various ethical paradigms/ tools for determining the “value” of humans and animals.

  • JTM

    We have seen where atheistic evolutionary secularism can take us: to a holocaust of 6 million deaths, to millions are Armenians killed, to hundreds of thousands of Bosnians killed, or today Syrians, etc., in the name of whatever the highest scular/atheistic good happens to be at the moment, be it nationalism, racism, commercialism, etc.

    The theology of Genesis is a prophetic (as in a truthtelling rebuke)to the notion that human life is meaningless and accidental and incendental and maybe even an evolutionary mistake harmful and damaging to all other life on the planet.

    We must be vary careful about thowing out the baby (Adam) and ending up with bathwater not worth (worthy) of keeping either, that ends up being meaningless and irrelevant.

    I think there is a reason Genesis 1-11 lives on, while all other AME texts and theologies are in the dust bins of history. And to me that reason is because of the text itself, and what that text says.

  • dopderbeck

    RJS (#37) — the way DeYoung frames it, and to some extent the way James McGrath et al framed their responses.

    JTM (#44) — you note that DeYoung says: “the most important question is what does the Bible teach.”

    But underlying that statement is a huge mass of a priori theological and philosophical commitments rooted in conservative Reformed Evangelicalism / fundamentalism. Not the least of these is that the Bible “teaches” things that qualify as “history” or “science” by modern standards. Another is that we can grasp what the Bible “teaches” just by comparing a few proof texts. Another is that the Church has no interpretive authority concerning what “the Bible teaches.” Yet another is that what “the Bible teaches” can’t be illuminated by findings from other disciplines, such as the natural science and archeology. Yet another is that reason and experience have no place in determining the truth on this matter along with what “the Bible teaches.” And so on.

    Now, I say all this not meaning to denigrate the vital importance of discerning what scripture is saying about human origins, and in fact my final conclusion about this isn’t terribly different than DeYoung’s. But I don’t think his approach and method are helpful or constructive at all.

  • Dan Arnold


    While I’d have to know what you mean by “We believe that God authored the Bible and cannot contain error in propositional truth,” the Bible makes no such claim for itself and there are a handful of passages where the Bible has what must be considered mutually irreconcilable statements. For instance, 2 Sam 24:1 says

    “Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, count the people of Israel and Judah.'”

    Whereas 1 Chronicles 21 says,

    “Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel.”

    It’s the same event, recorded in two different places. How can these be reconciled without requiring that God and Satan be one and the same? Or is this simply not propositional truth?


    What do you do about the story in Mark 2:23-28 where Jesus says that Abiathar was High Priest when David ate the consecrated bread where as 1 Samuel 21 says Ahimelech was the priest and Abiathar is his son (22:20)? I know for a fact that people discipled to believe that the whole Bible must be without error have left the faith when they discovered such problems.

    I could go into a few other places, but the point is that to say you can’t trust Jesus if he made a mistake or if the Bible is not inerrant will setup a dangerous foundation for belief. And it is this foundation that DeYoung is defending. Pete’s earlier book, I&I, was an attempt to wrestle with this question.

    But our hope cannot be based on a modernist (foundationalist) epistemological approach to the Bible. At the very least, our hope is based on a constellation of objective and subjective events and beliefs knit together by the witness of the Holy Spirit in our lives in the context of the Church.

    Shalom uvrecha,

  • JTM


    And I could also say where you end up with “Adam” is something of no greater value or signifance as Gandalf. Indeed, one can end up with a Genesis 1-11 by taking your rabbit trail that is nothing more than a glorified LOTR, with some insipid moralism and nothing more, written by well intentioned (or not), but very misinformed and mistaken ancients.

    As far as athiest/secular ethics, any of it can only be validated by majority rule or by power rule, and it has no authority or meaning beyond that, none. It is headless/souless moralism/legalism, pushed upon men/women without chests, without soul or spirit, where all is vanity and meaningless.

  • JTM


    I do not really disagree with your statement about DeYoung. I am not defending his “10 reasons” either. But He is stating a position that is “hey, the Bibical text, in both OT and NT speaks about a real Adam. So I interpret that to be historical”. You or I or others and disagree with that, but he is not really making a “historical” agrument. He is making a textual argument, based on his approach to scripture and inspiration. I was making to point to engage him there.

  • Darren King

    Does it matter to who?

    Ultimately, whether or not these issues “matter” comes down to one’s view of scripture (i.e. – what is it and what is it for?). If one views the people in the Bible as existing outside of a worldview common to their time and place, then perhaps it matters. But if you see them as people experiencing revelation, but still bound somewhat by the thinking of their time, then surely it doesn’t matter.

  • EricW

    What do you do about the story in Mark 2:23-28 where Jesus says that Abiathar was High Priest when David ate the consecrated bread where as 1 Samuel 21 says Ahimelech was the priest and Abiathar is his son (22:20)? I know for a fact that people discipled to believe that the whole Bible must be without error have left the faith when they discovered such problems.

    Bart Ehrman being perhaps the most notable example. ;^)

  • DRT

    JTM#47, come on now. It is too easy for someone else to talk about the crusades and any number of other conflicts that happen because of religion for you to make the argument that if we don’t have religion we will kill each other.

    Second, that is not even the point here. You are equating a lack of religion with questioning a story in the bible that I, personally, find patently obvious to be allegory or something similar. I find it much more unbelievable that someone would take it as you do than to see it for what it obviously is.

    I do agree though that Gen 1-11 is true. It tells of our story with god. You are sorely mistaken in what one has to give up with thinking that Adam may be allegory.

    Also, I too believe us being in the image of God, that is one of the most powerful relational teachings in Genesis. You are setting up a straw man that no one here ascribes to.

  • JTM

    JTM, I did not say people with religion don’t also kill, but rather that Gen. 1-11 provides a theological principle for not killing other human beings, which secular atheism does not/cannot do.

    I was not equating questioning a historical Adam with irreligion, rather, I was cautioning the path of making Genesis 1-11 as pure ANE mythology/allegory with no historical underpinnings or moorings, written by uninformed, ignorant, and mistaken ancients who had no idea whatsoever about the origins of anything.

    Scripture revelation is the only brake on a Secular/atheist evolutionists theory of mankind, and we should be very careful of deconstructing that revelation to the point that it becomes nothing more than insipid moralism or mythological speculation and wishful thinking.

  • CGC

    HI Dan,
    People should abandon innerancy, not the Bible. If people are looking for scientific precision in the Bible, people need to read the Bible for what it is and not for what they think it ought to be. On the other hand, I think people looking for errors are also on the wrong path. I suspect that most of our modern standards in defining “error” has little to do with the Bible either.

  • Jesus mentions Jonah, James mentions Job. Does that negate everything Jesus says? Or does that negate the richness of James letter? I think Enns mentions those examples in I&I, I can’t recall. Regardless, the actual historicity of these persons is not as important as the stories of these individuals and what they impart to the believing community. Viewing the opening scenes of the Torah as proto-Israel is a humble identification with sin and disobedience that is woven throughout history and asserts a strong dependence upon YHWH.

    I strongly disagree with DeYoung on his 8th point:
    “Without a common descent we lose any firm basis for believing that all people regardless of race or ethnicity have the same nature, the same inherent dignity, the same image of God, the same sin problem, and that despite our divisions we are all part of the same family coming from the same parents.”

    This Hebrew scriptures are just as xenophobic as they are inclusive and gracious. Furthermore, this is just a terrible argument. Denying the historicity of Adam puts me on a slippery slope toward racism? How would Jesus approach Obadiah’s condemnation of Edom?

    WIthout a common descent I think we lose a particular anthropocentrism, which I feel is much needed. Losing theologies of sin and justification? I think not.

  • Dan: Those two passages are easily reconciled. I will do that in a second. My point is that since God guided the authors of Scripture, what he claims to be true is true.

    As to the two passages concerning the census, there is a straightforward explanation. In at least four places in the Bible, unclean spirits and satan are shown as being sent on assignment from God. In one instance a “lying spirit” is sent from God to put a lie into the mouths of the prophets. With King Saul a “tormenting spirit” was sent by God. Even the fallen spirits and satan are still servants of God. They must obey God and there are times they must interact with humans at God’s insistence.

    The case of the census is one of those. In all likelihood, God was using this census to judge Israel for their rebellion against the anointed King with Absalom (a sin that had never been judged). As Alan Redpath once said “Satan is still God’s satan. All angels are ministering servants sent to serve those who will inherit salvation”.

    You may not agree with my interpretation but the explanation is not far-fetched.

  • RJS


    On this we agree mostly … “My point is that since God guided the authors of Scripture, what he claims to be true is true.”

    What God claims to be true is true, but I don’t think the method of inspiration is best described as guiding, it is better described as relating. God relates to his people – past, present, and future – and this formational “past” is preserved for us in inspired scripture. The pinnacle of this relating is the incarnation and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    In the example of the census I think it might be wise for us to consider the possible impact of time in this relationship between God and his people on the way the story is told. This isn’t necessarily inconsistent with your explanation, but it gives us a more theologically robust approach to scripture.

  • JimB

    >>Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan and a self proclaimed evangelical (because there is no other kind)<<

    It might be more to the point to identify DeYoung (or for him to identify himself) as confessionally Reformed, ordained in the oldest Reformed denomination in the U.S. … especially, if "evangelical" is never more than a self-proclamation.

  • RJS


    Perhaps you are right, and perhaps DeYoung doesn’t identify himself as evangelical – I don’t actually know for sure. This was a spin on the way he started his post more than anything else.

  • RJS

    Andrew #6,

    Aargh … that one escaped me :-(. Fortunately I never claimed to be inerrant, although my spelling is usually better.

  • Darren King

    If my English mother was wrong about English cuisine being the best in the world, how can I trust her about anything else?

    Oh, the existential angst!!

  • Dan Arnold

    Mike (#58),

    Yes I’ve heard that attempt to explain things and its more sophisticated cousin, the appeal to the devine council. But the problem with it is that in each of your examples, the sending of an evil spirit or of the Satan is expressly noted, but in neither the Samuel nor the Chronicles passage is there any indication that this is the case. So one can make the claim in order to reconcile the two passages, but it is completely unsupported by the text, the Bible we have.

    Shalom uvrecha

  • Luke Allison

    “Does the use of Hosea by Matthew demand that we read this as a Messianic prophecy? Is the veracity of scripture at stake if we do not? Does failure to find this a Messianic prophecy invalidate the place of Jesus as Messiah?”

    See also: The entire book of Hebrews. Particularly, however, the writer’s attribution of Psalm 40 to the lips of Jesus. There seems to be no doubt in his mind that this can be done. And yet it violates all rules of grammatico-historical interpretation.

    We are again at an impasse with fellows like Deyoung, because his definition of authority is so very different than most of ours. He would say that his definition is actually authority, while ours is a mere shadow. We would say that his definition ironically is derived from modernist concerns, while ours is living and active, and more true to contextual realities.

    I just don’t see how one side is going to see eye to eye with the other.

  • Kwesi

    RJS, I might be wrong but it seems to me that the only tenable positions are inerrancy or non-belief. How does one possibly address some of the conflicting accounts in the bible, especially of God’s nature? At what point, does all this “explaining away” come to be seen for what it really is – just that. For example, if you reject that God can really send out lying spirits, on what precedent? And why?

  • DanS

    Luke. You are right on one thing and wrong on another. Inerrancy is not a modernist concern – inerrancy has existed for centuries, it just was not named inerrancy and was not formulated in the same terminology.

    But you are right, neither side is going to see eye to eye. These discussions are, sadly, fruitless.

  • Richard

    Is it just me or does Deyoung’s first point, “The Bible does not put an artificial wedge between history and theology. Of course, Genesis is not a history textbook or a science textbook, but that is far from saying we ought to separate the theological wheat from the historical chaff. Such a division owes to the Enlightenment more than the Bible,” actually undermine his approach in the other points?

    If Genesis isn’t a history or biology text, why do we need to take Adam as a historic individual?

    Also, does this mean the sun really stood still since the Bible says so?

  • RJS


    I think a sophisticated innerrancy with nuance has existed for centuries. It runs back to the ante-Nicene Fathers, so it has existed for millenia. I hold, in fact, to such a position although some of the things I think need to be nuanced have changed from what Augustine or Origen or Justin Martyr or John Calvin thought needed nuance. But we still have to let scripture be what it is, not force it into the mold we think it should fit. That is really the point I want to make.

  • Luke A

    “Inerrancy is not a modernist concern – inerrancy has existed for centuries, it just was not named inerrancy and was not formulated in the same terminology.”

    DanS: I would argue that the “doctrine of inerrancy” as Kevin DeYoung would define it is absolutely a modernist construct. It answers questions that nobody was asking until the modern era.

    If you’re going to tell me I’m wrong, I’d like for you to produce a traditional or reformed creed and/or a church council which stated or debated this topic.
    The church is actually full of people who believe similarly to what you’ve stated here. And yet Luther wasn’t an inerrantist in any modern sense. Chrysostom certainly wasn’t. Calvin wasn’t. Even Charles Hodge wasn’t. I would put forth that the most current debates on inerrancy are completely and utterly grounded in modernist/enlightenment concerns. Ironically, this is the very thing DeYoung DeCries in his post.

  • Luke A

    After reading RJS I think I’m arguing for something that nobody is asking. My bad.

    I just don’t like the word “inerrancy” because it carries a great deal of baggage.

  • Larry S

    Those convinced that Adam must be a literal human being based on their theory of the Bible’s inspiration might find the following paper by Peter Enns interesting: The “Moveable Well” in 1 Cor 10:4: An Extrabiblical Tradition in an Apostolic Text. http://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/BBR_1996_03_Enns_Well_1Cor10_4.pdf There is scholarly speculation that 1 Cor 10:4 “and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” is Paul’s use of early Rabbinic exegesis/legend to make a theological point. Later in the paper (see pages 36ff) for more NT examples of the same thing; for example 2 Tim 3:8 for the magicians that opposed Moses (not mentioned in the OT but in other Jewish sources), Jude 9 has the angel disputing the Devil over Moses’ body (not found in the OT but in other Jewish sources).

    It seems the inspired author’s were quite ready to use “myth” or “legend” to make their theological points. I think these examples have much to tell us moderns about how to approach the ancient texts including the first few chapters of Genesis.

  • CGC

    A parable is a non-historical truth story. So I am not suggesting that there are no myths or legends in the Bible. The problem to me is what are the hermeneutics for myth within the Bible? It seems like enlightenment exegesis flows from both sides on this issue. What are the parameters that Adam and Eve are myth? What are the hermeneutical rules for distinguishing this genre? What about Noah or Abraham or anyone else mentioned within the Scriptures?

    Whatever happened to epistemological humility? I don’t know how either side can say with absolute certainty that they know for a fact that there were two historical people named Adam or Eve or they know they did not historically exist? Where does this indudible knowledge come from?

    I would wish people would argue these views with more tentativeness and modesty towards others.

  • DRT

    Kwesi#66 says

    RJS, I might be wrong but it seems to me that the only tenable positions are inerrancy or non-belief. How does one possibly address some of the conflicting accounts in the bible, especially of God’s nature? At what point, does all this “explaining away” come to be seen for what it really is – just that. For example, if you reject that God can really send out lying spirits, on what precedent? And why?

    I am certainly not RJS, but I do have an opinion. I think your question is at the root of one of the problems that we have. I will tell you my view on this.

    We say it here a lot, but I want to say it again. I am saved and follow the person of Jesus and not the bible. Even if the bible were clearly conflicting and wrong about some things, that does not make it false that Jesus is Lord, lived and died and rose, and has given us the way. So many have confused the bible with Jesus that the point gets lost. Without the bible we would still have (as they did in the first century) many stories about Jesus and testimonies to what happened. It just happens that we have critically accepted some of those that are in writing. There are broad traditions (RCC, EO) that use traditions handed down as a valid source. There is nothing wrong with that.

    Now, let’s assume that the folks who put the bible together either put a book in there that they should not have, or left one out that they should have put in. Does that mean that the bible is worthless?

    Just because I have told many people whom I have met different stories as to how I lost the tooth in my jaw, does it mean that I did not lose the tooth? (and I do like to spin a good yarn about that).

    Let’s assume that in reality that the bible is not inerrent, and that Jesus indeed did come and live, die, and rise. Do you think Jesus would feel the right answer was to not believe and follow him?

  • DRT

    CGC#73, I am not a scholar, and I don’t think back woods common sense is the way to go at all times, but I think it is worth looking at Gen 2-3 through my eyes. I will leave out minor points, which I can add if asked, but the major things include:

    – Did god really plant an orchard in the east? This is clearly an anthropomorphism. He could have created or a bunch of other things, but not plant.
    – Did the LORD God really breath into his nostrils the breath of life? I think not.
    – Did god really bring dogs and horses and birds to the man to see if he wanted those to be his mate? Really?
    – Why did he name these creatures? And for that matter, why did he need language at all? I think the naming means something different.
    – Did he really take a part of the man to make woman? If he made the man, why couldn’t he make the woman? Or are you questioning his perfectness?
    – Now did the serpent really talk to them? Really?
    – Were their eyes closed before their eyes were opened. – If they were closed, then how could they see that the fruit was good?
    – Did the serpent have arms and legs before he did that?

    I could go on and on. The point I want to make is that it is obvious to anyone who has not been taught that this is literal, that this is clearly not literal. I can’t even go two sentences without having absurd notions.

    I think the authors would be quite disappointed in us that we are still believing that this is literal history and refusing to look at the bigger meaning of the text.

  • Kwesi

    Thanks for your comments, DRT^. Here are a few things I see:

    1.You suppose that you can tell which parts of the bible are “bad” and which are not (How?).

    2. Yes, without the bible, we would still have accounts and stories of Jesus’ life and death etc. But to what ends? Without the bible, how would one put in perspective what Jesus did on the cross? Why does Jesus death and resurrection matter at all? Should we say that a man was God and worship him simply because there are accounts that he was resurrected?

    So (as Scot has insisted in his latest book) the OT – and the story of Israel – matter very much for the Jesus story. You can’t have one without the other. Hence, my reasoning that all of this is an act in explaining away the troubles in the bible. Also, didn’t Paul say all Scripture was inspired?

  • Dan Arnold

    Kwesi (#76),

    Because Jesus says the mustard seed is the smallest seed, do you think there are no smaller seeds? If not, why not? How would someone know?

    If we can reinterpret the question about the mustard seed based on empirical evidence, can’t we do the same with Adam? Just because a particular understanding of Adam is more important to a theological system than a particular understanding of seeds doesn’t mean that empirical evidence shouldn’t be allowed to alter that system.

    Shalom uvrecha

  • RJS

    Kwesi (#76),

    From my perspective there are no parts of the bible that are bad. The point isn’t to separate the wheat from the chaff and keep the wheat – the truly inspired and true parts. The purpose of this discussion is to explore the bible as the bible – as, among other things, the record of God’s action with God’s people. The bible is Christ-centered and Christ-focused, and that is true in Genesis and John. But we get nowhere fast when we demand that the bible be something it isn’t.

  • AHH

    Important words from RJS @78:
    But we get nowhere fast when we demand that the bible be something it isn’t.

    Both external and internal evidence seem to make it clear that one if the things it “isn’t” is “inerrant”, at least in the popular modern understanding of the concept. But “inerrant” (a concept not taught in the Bible) is not identical to “inspired” (a concept that is in the Bible), and that is really the key point. Lots of wise people (Enns, Sparks, McKnight, Wright, Christian Smith) have written about how to affirm the inspiration and authority of Scripture without going down the “nowhere fast” paths trodden by those of more fundamentalist convictions.

    I agree with an earlier comment on this thread that this sort of conversation about Adam in OT and NT literary context is probably fruitless for those (apparently including DeYoung) for whom an Enlightenment-soaked “perfect book” view of Scripture is seen as foundational to the faith.
    The divide between hardline Biblicism (say, Al Mohler or Westminster Seminary) and a view that sees more of the humanity of the inspired Biblical writers (say, Pete Enns or Fuller Seminary) is a big fault line running through Evangelicalism, affecting much more than just interpretation of Genesis and science/faith issues.

  • CGC

    Hi DRT,
    First of all, I know of no one who says they take the bible literally to mean wooden literalism as you portrayed it. This is simply a straw man to knock down. I am not even a biblical literalist in the first place because I think its a totally false dichotomy like Marcus Borg who says I take the bible seriously (and thus metaphorically) and not literally. This kind of dichotomous thinking of pitting the literal against the metaphorical or vise versa is exactly the sad results of the Enlightenment thinking that both right and left fall into that one can hardly find within the Bible itself (here is a neat way of separting literal from figurative, thus says the Lord). Whether it is scientific creationism or Christian evolutionism, neither one have anything to do with the Genesis narrative. Nor do our modern ways of hair splitting the literal from the figurative does any real jsutice ot the biblical narratives.

    Lastly, I remember talking to atheists on the internet who made similar arguments as you have and basically said why would anyone believe in talking snakes and such a stupid god of the Bible? People keep arguing back and forth with all this excess baggage we keep bringing to the biblical text.

    Wherever people come down on the issues and people’s theologically will vary, the real issue ultimately to me is do people come under the authority and judgment of the Word of God or does the Word of God come under our authority and judgments?

  • Rick Gibson

    It seems that Matthew, Paul, Luke and many early church fathers primarily saw (OT) Scripture as prophetic (looking forward to the coming Messiah) rather than a set of historical documents, and I think that is why they would be willing to quote something like Hosea 11 and call it prophecy fulfilled.

    I personally don’t have a stake in the issue; my faith would not be shaken by any evidence for or against Adam’s existence. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are sufficient ‘historical events’ for me.

  • CGC

    Hi Dan A.,
    You always have interesting and engaging points so I thought I would engage your points on this one (#77).

    1. Yes we know there are smaller seeds than the mustard seed and yes we know that through science. I for one at least am not against science or helping us understand some things better about the world we live in but I will say I get nervous when it seems so much of contemporary biblical scholarship assumes science will somehow prove the meaning of a certain text or whether that text is even viable or not (textual criticism). I have used for example textual criticims as a tool to understand the Bible but so much of how we use scientific ways of understanding the Bible makes certain scientific methods the (real) authority in the end from my perspective.

    2. I think the point of Jesus words is the mustard seed was the smallest known seed known at that time. Even if God had given Jesus special revelation to know there were smaller seeds than the mustard seed, how would Jesus communicate that to people to make a point? Jesus spoke to real people in their culture and language.

    So I certainly get your point that we have empirical evidence of smaller seeds than mustard seeds. The way we might preach that text would be different today but nothing would change from the point Jesus was making. Maybe I missed it but are you suggesting there is empiricle evidence of whether there was actually a historical Adam and Eve or not? Or were you alluding to something else?

    Thanks in advance – Chris

  • DRT

    CGC, so you support an allegorical reading, right?

  • TJJ

    I do not take Genesis 1-3 as literal history. I do see mythic symbolic language used is those passages. But I do tether the truths communicated/revealed in the text to be in some way tethered to real time, space, and history. The account of creation of the cosmos, arth, plants, animals, may be expressed in ANE language and concepts, but the text is only significant and meaningful if in fact in some fashion, in some point in time and space, God really did create the heavens, earht, plants, animals.

    Similarly, I take the creation/origins account of humanity in gen. 1-2 as again expressed in ANE mythic language and concepts, but the truths must agan still be tethered to real time/space/history in such a way that God really did in some fashon, at some historical point, create human origins in such a way that God’s image, and the uniquiness of the origin is real and authentic.

    I do take scientific research/knowledge/doscovery seriously, and it does inform my thoughts and approach to the question of how God may have done these things, but not if God did these things, which I affirm as a matter of faith.

    I assume science has some insight, and I repect that ans seek to understand how science knowledge about origins intersects with the bibical revelation. But I also assume science knowledge is limited, and incomplete, and may at some points be wrong. I also accept Biblical knowledge, understanding, and interpretation is imperfect and incomplete. So I do allow other sources of knowledge such as science to “mix it up” with Biblical interpretation and understanding.

    Adam may be a kind of ANE mythic category/concept/language. But what is represents at the very least is the notion of Human origins. And in some fashion that origin much be God initiated, God created, God breathed, God crafted in a way seperate and unique and differenciated from the rest of creation.

    In that sense Adam (or the concept of Adam as the origin of humanity must need be in some fashion real and historical, in the sense that at some point in time/space God did the things alluded to in Gen. 1-2.

    You can call that fundyism, or anti-intellectual evangelicalism, or whatever, but to me unless Genesis 1-3 has some real and meaningful and significant connection with real history and real events (does not have to be literal), the the account is ultimately meaningless and insipid drival that may be nice ANE litiature, but nothing more, and we might as well be discussing the Illiad or Beowulf.

  • TJJ

    Yeah, spelling is bad, I’m in a crowed Starbucks with only a few minutes to post, this blog needs spell check.

  • Joshua

    I haven’t read any of the posts above, so forgive me if I’m repeating something already said or beating a dead horse, but I can’t help but laugh at the subtle irony that a historical Adam is defended with anything but historical arguments.

    The uncritical “towing of the party line” is what’s wrong with Evangelicalism, not what’s right with it.

  • Joshua

    Ooops – should read “toeing of the party line.”

  • So, essentially, a) Paul and Luke just weren’t quite as enlightened as we are today (inspiration??), and b) it would be inappropriate to see Jesus in the OT, regardless of Jesus own analysis (Luke 24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures.)

    Isn’t this just classical liberalism?

  • RJS


    I think you have failed to read or try to understand anything I wrote.

    My understanding is that Matthew, Luke, and Paul saw Jesus in everything in the Old Testament – and that is what we should see today as well.

    How in the world is this classical liberalism?

  • AHH

    TJJ @84 insists that Genesis 1-3 have:
    some real and meaningful and significant connection with real history and real events (does not have to be literal)

    Maybe we agree, but it depends on what one means by “significant”.
    I believe that, as these chapters affirm, YHWH is really the creator of everything, including humanity (by whatever means, including evolutionary means). And that humanity is really universally sinful from the beginning of humanity — going our own way rather than following God (without commitment to a literal interpretation of how we got this way).
    If that is enough (non-literal) connection with “real” events and history, then I think you should have no disagreement with the position of Pete Enns in this book.
    If it isn’t enough, by what criteria does one demand more connection?

  • CGC

    Hi DRT,
    Well, a simple answer to your question is Yes, I support an allegorical reading of the text. But that is not the half of it. I follow the ancient Jewish and what some may refer to as the Catholic understanding of four senses of scripture. So there is everything from a more literal to an allegorical or spiritual meaning to the text. Again, for those who say they simply follow a literal historical approach or those who simply follow a metaphorical symbolic approach I think miss the boat both exegetically and historically (considering Jewish hermeneutics to the early church fathers).

  • Dan Arnold


    Thank you for engaging.

    I would say we have two forms of empirical evidence that challenge the historicity (in a modernist sense) of Adam and Eve. From genetics, I am told that modern humans do not show evidence of only a single pair of progenitors. In addition, the implications of evidence for Neanderthal DNA in humans seems to point away from an historical Adam and Eve given that Neanderthals died out 30000 years ago. The genetics, however, wouldn’t necessarily eliminate the possibility of Adam and Eve being some sort of representative head at some point in history but genetics does appear to severely limit the possibility of an actual historic couple.

    The other form of evidence is the writings we have from the ANE. Genesis 1-3 (and really 1-11) fit so nicely into the ANE context that it becomes a case of special pleading to say that Adam and Eve are historical and at the same time, claim none of the other stories are.

    So, yes, I do think there is empirical evidence regarding Adam and Eve but I also recognize that all evidence must be interpreted (as must scripture itself).

    Make sense?

    Shalom uvrecha,

  • DRT

    CGC, then we are of like mind, if not in the details at least in the approach. As I study scripture, from a layperson view with occasional inklings of more, I have often isolated 5 or more levels of interpretation that seem applicable.

    My statement of wooden literalism is strictly to make the point that people indeed need to pick and chose what they interpret in what manner.

    Sorry, I thought you were advocating a literal (wooden) Adam and Eve.

  • CGC

    Thanks for your generous words DRT. to Dan, I speak with fear and trembling because I suspect he knows more about the knowledge and background of some of the latest science and genetic studies. I simply recall a few years ago when scientists were speaking about a common origens to mankind and some of the speculation that brought about in regards to Adam and Eve. Some of the latest remarks go the otherwise and therefore more talk about possible implications for Adam and Eve. I am not an expert enough in these kinds of studies to know what has the greater merit one way or the other. I find science often changing or being challenged by different interpretations within its own community.

    As far as ANE stories, I always wonder why other religions miracles are creative fictions or superstitious legends and all miracles in the bible get a pass. I’m not sure one can really limit God of the Bible to be the only true history or true miracles while all others are illegitimate. Maybe all literature aned specific accounts need to e examained with a little more consent and skepticism rather than just one or the other.

    On the other hand, it is intersting to see a scholarly synthesis by G. K. Beale on Genesis and ANE while holding to the inerrancy of scripture. While I do not hold to the inerrancy of scripture like Beale, here is someone who still can still hold these in tension and together raher than polarizing the two against each other like many Evangelicals often do.

  • DRT

    CGC, I am not a woman! 😉

  • @ RJS #89 –

    But, Jesus wasn’t really there, they were just reading Jesus into it because it suited their theological slant? The classical liberalism comment was more regarding our modern ‘enlightened’ view over that of the Apostles. Note: it is a common thing in liberal seminaries to say that one can’t read NT into the OT (despite the apostles doing it and Jesus stating it).

  • I’m late to the discussion, but I do remember Ken Bailey suggesting that the gospel writers (particularly Matthew) were including stories the “signaled” Jesus as the new Israel. (And note that Matthew begins with Abraham in his genealogy.)

    Jesus had humble beginnings just as Abraham did.

    Jesus goes down into Egypt to escape calamity and is later called back by God, just as Israel was.

    Jesus passes through the waters (and is baptized by John) on his way into his ministry, just as Israel passed through the red sea.

    Immediately after passing through the waters, Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness, just as Israel was in the wilderness for 40 years.

    Jesus calls 12 disciples, just as God established 12 tribes.

    Matthew was written to a Jewish audience and his genealogy goes from Abraham to Jesus, with Jesus subsuming all that Israel had been from Abraham to the present and redeeming it. Luke is writing to a gentile audience. Is it possible that Luke takes his genealogy back to Adam to show that Jesus subsumes humanity’s story from Adam to Jesus in himself, thus symbolizing his redemption of all humanity?

  • RJS


    You miss the point, again. The OT is about Jesus. It is not that it “suited their theological slant.” The story of the OT is from beginning to end wrapped up in the story of God and this culminates in Jesus. It is the culmination in himself that Jesus taught and that the Apostles and Evangelists realized and preached. This makes the church and this brings the already/not yet Kingdom of God.

    It is our rather unfortunate fixation on inerrancy that misses the point and confuses the issues.

    Yes liberal scholars will say that one can’t read the NT into the OT – but that isn’t what I am doing here at all.

    Evangelicals treat the OT as a bunch of cute stories that have moral lessons for us today (and miraculous prophecy), but otherwise rather irrelevant. We miss the point as badly – or perhaps even worse because in an attempt to be true to God we fail to actually read and study his story.

  • CGC

    Right on RJS . . . We need both a canonical reading of scripture and a christological one. Good points . . . Chris

    To DRT, if women were the only ones generous, we would be in a lot more trouble :–)

  • TJJ

    AHH #90, yeah, I don’t think we are too far apart. I may not be too far from Enns or RJS either. I may want to hold onto a little more of a real and historical (in some true sense) “special Creation” of human beings, even in the framwork of a larger evolutionary scheme/framwork.

    I do try to read and keep abreat of the current literature on origins from the leading scholars/scientists in the field, especially the recent work in early hominid populations and DNA research, etc.

    I respect it, and I want to know about it and understand it, but I am not totally sold on all of it. I do not insist on anything like a literal reading of Genesis 1-3 or even a literal Adam in the sense of one literal man, one literal woman, etc.), but I do want to still hold onto the notion Genesis 1 and 2 are communicating true/historical and “especially focused” Divine intervention/interaction in human origins, a true imparting of the divine image, with a true and categorical distinction, of nature and being, of human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom.

    And I also hold out for the notion that Genesis 1-3 does express real truth and insight about real events and the real significance therefrom, that while expressed in terms of AME terms and categories, is communicating true Divine revelation and revelatory insight that other ANE traditions did not know, rejected, or corrupted.

  • Andrew

    A side thought I’ve been pondering over the days since this post came up: I wonder if we don’t read our Scriptures in a similar way to how these gospel writers did — only instead of reading Jesus into every verse, we read *ourselves* into every verse. Jeremiah 29:11 comes to mind.

  • CGC

    Hi TJJ,
    I remember Robert Webber used to say that he wanted Evangelicals to recover what he called a true Evangelical spirit and the historical substance of Christianity. It seems TJJ you nicely hold these two togeher :–)

  • RJS

    Andrew (#101),

    I think we do read Scripture this way – everything is about “me” and every message is for “me”.

    The Sunday School lessons we teach our kids drive this lesson home, over and over and over again.

    David and Jonathan? How can we be good friends.
    David and Absalom? We must honor authorities including parents.

    Overall theme of the story of David? I can trust God, I need to make wise choices, I should treat others the way I want to be treated.

    Very little of God, nothing of his work in Israel, and very little gospel … rooted in salvation culture (I need to be reconciled to God so I can live with him forever in heaven.)