Theologians Thinking with Scientists

This is the second part of my presentation at BioLogos in March.

Theologians thinking with scientists

Let me give two examples of topics that are probably safer places to begin that practice of pastors and scientists thinking aloud together. My father was an English public school teacher; my church was fundamentalist; I was armed against science on all fronts; so I went into the humanities and put off my Biology and Chemistry classes until the last semester of college, and I should add that my college had a policy – so grades could be calculated – that a graduating senior in good standing had his or her grade determined at the midterm grade, which meant that I really only had to take one half of a semester of science, which gave me more time to read theology and Bible. I learned to think theologically. Then along came one “RJS” who wrote up a post on my blog one day about death entering the world long before Genesis 3, which jolted me not because of evolutionary theory but because I wanted to think about death theologically in that context. My life has not permitted me to chase that one very deep into the tohu va-bohu but I do wonder if the ongoing cycle of life and death over millions of years, red in tooth and claw, is not a sacrament of resurrection and of God as giver and restorer of life – in an ongoing sacramental cycle. Our bright young science students would like to be at the table for this one, and I suspect pastors could say mostly anything they want on this topic and not get in trouble.

Death is one such topic pastors need to think through with scientists, and so also is original sin. I am a fan of the writing of Alan Jacobs, professor at Wheaton, and his book called Original Sin is a goldmine of judicious and timely quotations across the span of history, but I wondered as I read that book what would happen to this book if pastors and churches began to think through DNA, human nature, the development of the brain and the frontal lobe, and original sin with a group of scientists who also care about original sin? Jacobs gives us one chapter, a short one, but we need three or four, or a few books, on this topic. Timely quotes from brilliant writers who evoke a history of the sophisticates makes for a wondrous romp, but the science student will ask how this stuff really does happen. Pastors and churches can play a role, if they are willing to think together in a safe environment with constructive aims in view. Very few churches can do this; about the same want to do this. It matters and the church will be left behind by many today if they don’t come to the table, or bar, or café.

The mode of conversation matters

One of my friends, a pastor who says he’s from California but is really from Rockford Illinois, and played for a team called the E-Rabs (he’s named John Ortberg), will ask this question so I might as well begin to answer it. What can we do at the local church level? I begin with this: if we want to influence a generation with an intellectual embrace of orthodox Christian faith and responsible science, we have to avoid satire, insults, and ridicule. You may well hear the common insult that you can believe chimps are your ancestors but Christians don’t, and it isn’t often of much use to reply, or retaliate, that theistic evolution believes in common ancestry but that we are not descendants of chimps. When that claim is made no response works.

Chimps lead the young, restless and conservative to Adam, and I’d like to dwell on Adam a bit tonight as a topic some pastors and scientists need to discuss together. Some of you may know that I have a blog, and some of you may mistakenly think I write about science and faith issues every Tuesday and Thursday morning. I don’t, but that same “RJS” does. I have told her a dozen times I am amazed at how often the discussion turns to Adam. I want to make a stronger claim: all science-faith discussions eventually lead to Adam (and his often unmentioned wife).

Here’s the common theology: God made Adam and Eve directly, out of the dust. That primal couple sinned, and death entered into the world through their sin. Adam is almost entirely absent from the Old Testament and so the next really important text (for our purposes) is either Romans 5:12-21 or 1 Corinthians 15:21-22. Nuances aside Paul contends that as sin and death entered into the world through one man, Adam, so righteousness and life enter back into the world through one man, Christ. We can ramp this up one notch: Luke has a genealogy that runs from Jesus all the back to Adam. Sometimes it works out as back-logic: if Christ is real, then Adam is real. If Adam isn’t real, then neither is Christ. Or, if Adam isn’t real, then the whole thing falls apart.

It would be easy at this stage to take the way of Heschel and Einstein and start shooting the arrows of insult at one another. It may bring the momentary joy of the artful put-down or it may bring (and this is the leader’s temptation) the congratulations of our political allies in the theological world. We need to stop flogging the genuine question, the genuine quester and the genuine quest.

I suggest that instead of trading insults, we develop the virtue of tranquil, intellectual patience, and that the church be a place this can begin. Our goal, and here I can remind us of the many comments of Polkinghorne about the quest for truth and “well-motived beliefs,”1 is to land as firmly as possible on the kind of truth that permits intellectual integrity from both a theological/biblical perspective and a scientific perspective. Intellectual tranquility and patience love questions and frown upon dogmatic claims. Two facts now: The first one is theological: by all accounts, the Bible looks to me like it tells a Story in which God made a singular couple, Adam and Eve, that they were real people, that they sinned, and that they somehow passed on both death and sinfulness to everyone. One could, I suppose, point to particular examples of sinners to prove this, some pointing to Neandertals and Denisovans while others might point to Green Bay Packer or New York Yankee fans, which for me is the same crowd. I digress. Speaking of Neandertals, I want to point to the second fact: biologists and evolutionists know that death didn’t first enter the world through humans, and they know the DNA make-up of humans today originated not in two people but in perhaps thousands, and they are inclined to think the Adam and Eve story of Genesis 1—3, and beyond, needs to be looked at through the lens of myth or ancient cosmology. For them, Genesis 1—2 is not straight science. The pastor and scientist now have to look one another in the eye with some trust to get along.

I’m an amateur, perhaps worse, when it comes to science. I read RJS’s posts, and I read books like Edward Larson’s wonderful parade through the history of the idea of evolution, and so some things take me by surprise when others have known such things for decades. Take, for instance, Dennis Vennema’s article that argued that our DNA pool came from perhaps thousands. Well, I thought to myself as I was reading his details and microscopic focus on evidence and scientific letters, this sure does the number on Adam and Eve. I read Karl Giberson’s and Francis Collins’s The Language of Science and Faith, and it was that story of creation and evolution in the last chapter that got me going. It’s all about quarks and leptons and about “beneficial mutations” or what Simon Conway Morris calls “favored pathways” or what Polkinghorne calls “inbuilt natural potentiality.” This too does the number on Adam and Eve. And if these scientific theories are right we need to think about Adam and Eve and creation in more expansive pathways. And I want to suggest churches are a good place for this discussion. Scientists need to talk about this with pastors, and pastors need to talk with scientists.


1. J. Polkinghorne, Science and Religion in Quest of Truth (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011)


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  • Amory Ewerdt

    Scot, as someone else suggested in another recent post I would love to see you and RJS co-author a book on this subject. You both seem to have a good pulse on this, and are well trained in your respective fields. I believe this subject is of great pastoral concern and I don’t foresee it waning in the coming years.

  • DRT

    As a 50 year old, the shock to me is discovering in the past 10 years that there are still large swaths of america that believe a literal genesis story. I was raised a catholic, and we came to peace with this decades ago. My catholic school taught me about evolution and never once hinted that they thought it may not be correct.

    It is shocking to me, and quaint, that some still believe such things.

  • Bev Mitchell


    You say, “if pastors and churches began to think through DNA, human nature, the development of the brain and the frontal lobe…….And I want to suggest churches are a good place for this discussion. Scientists need to talk about this with pastors, and pastors need to talk with scientists.”

    Wouldn’t it be lovely! As Professor Higgins discovered with Eliza, it takes a lot of time and study to get up to speed on any one of these areas. I am not saying that a dialogue is not needed, it is, desperately. But I get the feeling that you hold out some sort of hope for a crash course for pastors in major areas if the life sciences. This would be just like asking busy biologists to get up to speed theologically in a couple of weekends. 

    I think there are two different problems or questions. The first is very simple, if time consuming. It boils down to biologists helping pastors who want to come to a reasonable understanding of the nature and validity of the evolutionary origin of and ongoing changes in living things. Almost any evolutionary biologist – agnostic, atheist, Muslim Jew or Christian- will be glad to do this. In fact, they are doing this every day, all over the world, every time a Christian student comes to class. Richard Dawkins has even worked with Bishops to help strengthen knowledge and understanding of biological evolution among the faithful. Regardless of the background or belief of the good and honest biologist you invite, the fundamental scientific information will remain the same. There is no Christian evolutionary biology as distinct from atheist biology.

    The other problem or question is – given the fact of biological evolution, how should we re-read and re-interpret Scripture? And we should add, given the facts of modern Archeology………. These latter problems are real and pressing too.  But biologists and archeologists will be of little help, unless they are also thoroughly up to speed in Christian theology. They will not change the scientific results to make it easier for the theologian. If they do, show them the door.

    As you point out, there are areas where science and theology can have very fruitful interchange, but this has to come first at the level spoken of by people like T.F. Torrance and John Polkinghorne. What is needed at the pastoral level is very different – and urgent. Unfortunately, many pastors, not to mention movers and shakers in private seminaries and Bible colleges, have a problem understanding and trusting even some of their own theologians in these areas. 

  • RJS

    I was glad to be in the audience when this was originally presented … it was an excellent start to the meeting, and I hope that it got some people thinking.

    We do need pastors thinking with scientists – but this is a local thing, and it is not clear that it will happen any time soon.

  • CGC

    Hi Scot,
    Your words here are so powerfully written and resonate with me so strongly. Yes, I wish you and RJS would do a book together or even better, a larger collaboration dealing with a host of issues that would wake the church up to at least start dealing with the issues. And let me give at least one big issue of these issues.

    Although I absolutely agree with the inter-dialogue between scientists and theologians, I think some of what Peter Enns started doing at a whole new level is going to have to happen first. I suspect many theologians would be very resistant to what they possibly see as science either trumping their theology or science changing their theology in some significant way.

    At the heart of all this is the ANE studes, cosmology, multiple levels of meaning and significance, ancient Jewish hermeneutics along with a robust study of early christian studies and early church fathers understandings on the issues. If theologians can break out of the binary, linear, one-demensional way of “seeing” and reading the Bible, then I believe there is hope. But if they can not get out of this modern hermeneutical box and paradigm, then I don’t think all the talking in the world between these two groups is going to change the majority (maybe a few)?

    I think before the science talk can even happen our whole conceptual way of thinking and studying scripture has be be challenged at a much greater level for even the possibility of doors to even swing open for example of a expanded understanding of Adam, etc. I like to hear others thoughts on this but I just think some biblical studies issues will have to happen first before people really give a “hearing” to the scientific community?

    Lastly, I can’t help but wonder how some of this relates to how men and women often can not understand where “the Other” is coming from or why Protestants and Catholics think so differently on how they understand and relate to the same Scriptures. Can these two groups start learning to think more alike? Sometimes our way of thinking needs a whole rigorous training schedule to get us to start looking at things not only from different angles, but our brain even processing the information differently. If Catholics think analogically, can Protestants? If women think thoughts in groups, can men do the same? This is the perrenial challenge and it seems the church at large doesn’t do much on discipleship of people’s lifestyles much less discipleship of people’s minds in these deeper ways.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Spot on, unfortunately. There already exist so many good books that would start us down the road to a better, more agreeable place in these areas of real and assumed conflict. Are the people who should be reading them doing so? If not, what will it take to get them to? Do most even recognize the size of the problem? You mention Pete Enns’ approach. It seems he is even coming out with a series for children that will point in a more reasonable direction (I imagine). Any bets on how many CE programs, and which ones will adopt these materials?

  • CGC

    Hi Bev,
    I doubt few and hardly any of the Evangelical stripe! I hate sounding cynical so often (I quess I need to “see” more hope on the horizon). I went to Lou Giglio’s “Passion” conference at the beginning of this year. Now those young people give me hope! Whatever their beliefs, they want to serve and make a difference in this world. They don’t care if that means being counter-cultural or downward mobility in life. I pray that spirit becomes contagious rather than the church stomping out their fires along with the rest of the world!

  • Luke Allison

    I’m trying to think this one through (sometimes my wife is angry at me for thinking it through when I’m supposed to be paying attention to her!) and I’m seeing some rays of hope. I recently passed “Genesis for Normal People” on to a few folks at my evangelical mega-church, and everyone has been intrigued by it so far. The key has been for me to say “Can we talk about this a little?” rather than come in with iconoclastic guns blazing.

    The most interesting thing to me is that young people (I work with youth) are extremely open to this kind of thing, because the scientific air they’ve breathed for the most part tastes like evolution. They are intrigued by new ways of thinking….but their parents are the ones who get very upset when you start messing with long-held foundations.
    So rather than being able to form and shape young people to think deeply and follow the way of Jesus in all of life, we’re left with towing a particular line. And it’s a line that is getting more crooked by the day.

    I’m interested if Dr. Enn’s “Adam as proto-Israel” idea is favored by anyone on here? It makes some sense, particularly based on the context in which Genesis was written, but I haven’t seen enough agreement with him to warrant jumping in with both feet for the time being.

  • Bev Mitchell

    CGC #7

    Yes, encouraging, but with the caveats expressed in the following article in Roger Olson’s blog and the 119 responses it engendered.

  • John C. Gardner

    Here are several queries:
    1. Adam seems to be as far as the New Testament is concerned a real person. Is this true and if not what are the theological and ontological effects of such a change?
    2. John Y Collins(and others such as John Stott) have proposed possible explanations to how Adam and Scripture, sin etc could be interpreted. Are these viable?
    Thanks for any comments on this question. I am not interested in defending any particular position but simply strengthening my own understanding and faith.

  • Luke Allison

    John C Gardner # 10

    I have had these same types of questions, but I’ve moved over into the position Scot is articulating for a few reasons:
    1. Adam’s sin is strikingly absent from the Old Testament (1 Chr 1:1 and Hosea 6:7 are the only references outside of Genesis 3 and 4. Eve is never mentioned again after 4:1.
    2. Consequently, the interpretation put forth by traditional Christian teaching of Romans 5:12 is absent in the OT. Since this seems to be the “core” of many Christian theologies, I am fascinated that it doesn’t seem to be the core of the Hebrew Scriptures.
    3. Paul is the first person to articulate theology centering around Adam. Why is this? This is a question we need to wrestle with more and not simply say: He was inspired by God to do this. Everything happens in context and in a culture.
    4. Since corporate identity plays a huge part in Hebrew thinking (X does this, so X’s tribe is also guilty of this), you would think that Paul’s understanding of Adam’s sin being transferred would be all over the Hebrew Bible. It’s a very Jewish way of looking at this subject. And yet it’s not there. At all.

    All of these have led me to believe that we need to think deeper and more creatively about Paul’s “Adamic” theology.

  • BradK

    DRT, it should be *too* shocking. It took the RCC over 350 years to finally admit that Galileo was right. Maybe that painful experience gave the Church an advantage over American evangelicals in such matters. After all, it’s only been about 150 years since Darwin. Maybe in another 200 years American evangelicals will have accepted a non-literal Genesis. 😉

  • BradK

    Ugh. My first line should have read “shouldn’t be *too* shocking.”

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    Luke #8, Adam as Israel I think has merit and I have heard others agree on this list as well. Where I think there is room for discussion when it comes to Enn’s is he is reacting to his past, like most of us, so some of what he says comes off the old binary either/or way to me. It’s either Adam or Israel, it’s either literal or metaphorical, etc. I think some of this can still be more nuanced with a more gentler way of presenting the issues (at least how I see Enn’s on his blog, I am glad he is confident but I am not sure I have ever seen him back down on anything?). Modesty, humility, and being gracious to people we disagree with I think will go a lot farther in the conversation than, ‘I used to be a fundamentalist like you and then I grew up” attitude that some of us sometimes project in our conversations with others. Overall, I think Enn’s is right but I simply think we need to present the issues in ways that does not sound like we have to stake a claim or draw such a strong line in the ground.

    Bev, #9, obviously Piper has a huge influence on Giglio and Giglio has Piper speak every year at Passion. Two things, I’m sure some of the academic note takers love the more seminary like talks that Piper gives. But on the other hand, there were 40,000+ young people at this event, when Piper was giving his talk, most of them around me were either bored or didn’t get what he was saying. The real problem is Piper gave his talk like he was lecturing third year Bible college students (which most of these young people neither had the background nor the theological vocabulary to keep up with Piper). I have also heard Piper speak a message on holiness to young people where everyone hung on his every word. I don’t know about past Passion Conferences but Piper seemed to miss the target this year. Anyway, I looked at Roger setting up the discussion, I will have to look into the responses (all 119 of them 🙂


  • CGC

    Hi Brad and all,
    Speaking of RCC’s, this is a problem more among Evangelicals than Catholics or the Eastern Orthodox. It’s not that RCC’s or EO’s don’t believe in a literal Adam and Eve, many do. It’s just that they are not as hung up on it like Evangelicals are and have more ways of resourcing their faith than Evangelicals in dealing with multiple layers of the Bible and a richer imagination for understanding the Bible’s many literary forms and images.

  • MWK

    I’m one of those blind knuckle-dragging neanderthals (pun intended) who think Adam was a real person, but it’s a secondary issue to me, so I don’t get too upset when other Christ followers don’t agree. Peace.

  • Jon G

    CGC in #5 is dead on.

    I would also add that a major hurdle to overcome is making complex theological and scientific truths accessible to the layperson…this is crucial in a Protestant tradition where the established system of theological study is secondary to personal inquiry. Enns’ Genesis for Normal People is a great step in this direction. We need simple, straightforward, convincing explanations of these deeper issues to whet the appetites of those who are of different persuasions than the ones Scot and RJS are espousing.

    Once that is addressed, then the dialogue can really begin.

  • Jon G

    btw, my father came to me today all excited about this webpage:

    I wanted to pull the little hair out that is left on top of my head…oh, where to begin!!??

  • CGC

    Hi Jon,
    We may not like it but the Creation-Science folks are doing a much better job providing church material resources, even to youth and children when it comes to their understanding of scripture and science. How much effort and money are others willing to put forth for a different perspective is yet to be seen!

    And here is a sidebar, my wife was unhappy with me when I would not use their material for instructing our youth and children. There are pressures coming from all sides . . .

  • CGC

    After read reading my #19, I quess I should clarify. My wife is the ministry team leader over children and youth in the church and I am the Pastor. So when I was talking about our children and youth, I am talking about the Christian education within the church context (not my family).

  • Larry S

    #16 brilliant comment ! MWK – I think we all need take a chill pill. Problem is that many have made this a ‘hill to die on.’

  • CGC

    Hi Larry and all,
    I would hope however people interpret Adam, they would not make this a “hill to die on” as you say. I think when people take “sides” or think this issue is an all or nothing-take no prisoners approach, then it turns into a hill to die on. Christ already died on a hill, I just wish Christians would quit killing their own!


  • Darrin W Snyder Belousek

    Very interesting discussion.

    It seems to me (and perhaps I’m missing something here) that the lynchpin of the logic requiring an historical first pair (A&E) from whom all human beings are biologically descended is the idea that sin (and hence a penalty of death as a consequence of sin) is passed from generation to generation, so that you and I, simply in virtue of having been conceived as part of the human race inherit the sin of that first pair (and its attendant penalty). This fact then necessitates Jesus, the God-Man, who inherits human nature, but not the first sin, from the descendants of that first pair and who thus is capable of paying the penalty of sin for all humanity. So, if that first pair are not historically real, then there is no real reason for the incarnation and the atonement. So, if our understanding of origins is undercut by science, so also is our Christology and soteriology.

    There are two key premises in the above argument (which I’ve seen and heard repeated by many, laypersons and scholars alike): (a) the Calvinist (i.e., penal substitution) theory of atonement; and (b) the Augustinian doctrine of original sin. If we deny either of these premises, then the theological problem is resolved. There are good reasons for doubting that the Calvinist theory of atonement is biblically warranted and theologically sound (see my book Atonement, Justice, and Peace for a comprehensive critique of PS). There are also good reasons to doubt the Augustinian doctrine–it is based on both a mistranslation of Rom 5:12 in the Latin Vulgate and an ancient theory of biological inheritance that modern science has rejected.

    Paul does not actually say in Rom 5:12 that all human beings in history have died because Adam sinned. That text, if read carefully, says three things: (1) that sin came into the world by means of one human being, (2) that death came into the world by means of sin, and (3) that death has come to all humans because all humans have sinned. It seems clear enough that Paul was thinking of an historical Adam in claim (1)–it was the first human who first sinned. It also seems that he is talking about human death in claim (2), not death in general. And in making that claim, I would suggest, Paul is simply reporting the biblical narrative as he read it and we find it: the first human to die is not Adam (despite God’s threat, Adam does not die “in the day” he sins) but Abel, and Abel dies by sin, having been murdered by Cain. So, sin and death enter the world by the human being: sin by Adam, death by Cain. This sequence, sin begetting death, then becomes the universal pattern, repeated by all humans through history. The causality is not between Adam’s sin then and our deaths now, but between sin now and death now–a causality that is present in every generation and propagated to the next generation, not by biological inheritance, but by the repeated choosing of sin by the human being in every generation. That is, as Paul literally says, “death spread to all because all have sinned” (note: NOT b/c Adam sinned but b/c humans continue to do what Adam did–viz., choose sin).

    Augustine’s doctrine was that an “original sin” (the sin of the first human) was passed biologically by sexual reproduction down the generations b/c, as Augustine put it, all humanity for all time became at once a “mass of damnation” when Adam sinned (b/c, Augustine believed, all future humanity was actually physically present in Adam’s “seed”–a biological theory we reject today–and so suffered indelible corruption b/c of Adam’s sin).

    Paul’s thesis, if read carefully, is that of a phenomenon of “universal sin”–all humans have sinned, not by Adam, but of their own account, by their own choosing it. Every human, generation after generation, has chosen sin–and so death continues to be caused by human choices. That Pauline thesis, I would contend, is not merely a theological claim based on Scripture but also an empirical claim based on observation that can be confirmed again and again, person by person, epoch by epoch–sin is, in fact, in observed in all humanity, a fact we can generalize to humanity past and project to humanity future. And that fact is true independently of whether or not the human race is biologically descended from a first pair.

    So, why do humans continue to sin? And how does the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ save humanity from sin? These are the questions that require theological and anthropological (and likely also biological) study.

  • CGC

    Hi Darrin,
    This is exactly my understanding of Romans 5, Augustine’s unfortunate history on this idea which the Eastern church has never biten into that apple 🙂 Your one of the first person’s in long while to put this in biblical theological context as well as showing how the early fathers, especially Augustine has influenced us to this day. We must be reading some of the same books 😉

    This makes me think of Tim Keller who believes in *both* evolution and a historical Adam (by the way, for those who believe in a historical Adam, that’s fine with me as long as some don’t misread Romans 5 like Augustine or Barth did). I just think Keller as he tries to deal with science in a faithful way is going to run into problems with his “one has to believe in a literal one-man Adam.” I think we run the ship into the rocks when people say one has to believe in a historical Adam for Scripture to be true and any other view ruins the scripture principle or one has to believe in a metaphorical Adam for Scripture to be true and any other view ruins the scripture principle. Can it be that Scripture is bigger and greater than *our* interpretations?

  • AHH

    Darren @23,

    Augustine’s model of original sin corrupting original perfection and passing that to subsequent generations is indeed important for many who insist on a literal Adam & Eve, but in my opinion a roughly equal issue (at least in more conservative circles) is that Paul in 2 places seems to speak of Adam as a historical person. So to suggest otherwise challenges some models of Biblical inspiration. Now, I personally think that issue can be dealt with by noting the rather freewheeling way Paul uses OT Scripture and Jewish tradition in making his points (as Pete Enns points out in The Evolution of Adam). But for those with a more fundamentalist approach to Scripture, that issue makes taking Adam as a symbolic figure a non-starter even before one talks about original sin.

  • Almost all people read Adam and Eve literalist even if they don’t think it’s literal. They also believe Paul thought the Adam and Eve story was literal because they read their literalist concepts into Paul’s mindset. A close inspection of Paul in Rom 5-8 and 1 Cor 15 illustrates that Paul’s concepts were not literal but were based upon understanding the story as analogy. Paul clearly indicates in many places in scripture that “death” is used as a metaphor for spiritual separation from God but they don’t want to consider his concepts in Romans and 1 Corinthians from a consistent pattern.

    From my years of study of these exact issues it has become overwhelmingly convincing that Paul sees Adam as Proto Israel and it becomes apparent that thorough investigations that Genesis 2-4 is indeed an exilic story projecting Israel as depicted through the Adam and Eve characters. It would take many chapters and or a book though to demonstrate this and attention spans are often short.

    Paul actually defines for us the Garden of Eden concept and its place for us if we pay very close attention which is hard to do when we read Romans and 1 Cor 15, especially if we are inclined to read “death” primarily as physical death and not spiritual separation. Actually many of our scholars like Pete who gets more right than most still mess up Pauline Theology because that’s not their strength yet. There are a few scholars like Daniel Harrell that are inching closer to the “spiritual” death of Adam but it’s a slow process because they are mostly evangelical scholars who would ruin their careers if they get out too far ahead in this process. It’s typically somewhat safer for Pete to play around with Genesis than it is for him to stretch the theological envelope regarding “sin and death” in the NT.

    In Paul’s concept “sin” was part of the natural order of humanity and that Adam represented the first covenant man in the vein of Israel’s faithful who were drawn out of humanity and separated from the desert wilderness of paganism. His being placed in the Garden means he was intended to walk with God through His faith just as Israel was. Being created from the mortal dust of the earth is Hebrew symbolism for Adam’s mode of walking with God was based upon his human physical nature which 1 Cor 15:40-50 defines as the natural or earthy man. It simply means his natural human nature that is self centered and based upon what Paul calls the fleshly way of life. This is contrasted to the Higher plane of living demonstrated by the last Adam who raises up the natural man to live above his earthy nature and walk as Christ did with a higher plane of interaction with God and our fellow man. Our natural man centered on Adam is based upon the idea of our animal nature of self-centeredness while the spiritual approach is to go beyond our self centeredness and walk in concepts that are in a higher origin. That is why Christ stated that the two Great commandments were Love God and your fellow man and everything was foundational to those concepts and approach to life.

    Paul says that he was alive before the commandment came in Rom 7:9 but then when the law came just like Israel he died. That is because Paul considered himself part of the Body of Israel which is the Body of Adamic spiritual Death that Christ relieved them of. All men died through Adam because all men cannot attain God through their own mortal natural self, it requires a heavenly intervention that we call Grace through Christ. Adam’s story has nothing to do with biological creation but covenant creation is the functional account just like John Walton’s concepts demonstrate. Adam’s wife eve simply represents the body of faithful that followed after Adam’s way of walking with God and that is represented by Israel as the Old Body of Adamic death. The New Eve who marries the new husband Christ the last Adam is the
    Body of Christ. If you have any doubts read Revelation chapter 12 and see how John continued the old Adam and eve story but with a new generation being born as the Living instead of the Dead. Israel’s prophets wrote the OT with the concepts of the messiah coming to rid themselves of the burden of the law and its inept methodology of Godly attainment. They were writing a revolutionary handbook in which the saga unfolds over hundreds of years and Israel’s theocracy was changed for a heavenly Government beyond the auspices of corrupt priest hood. Read Ezekiel and the Minor prophets and much of the intertestement literature such as Enoch, Jubilees, Psalm of Solomon and 4 Ezra to get a deeper flavor of how revolutionary this mindset prevailed for over 500 years.

    These issues will gradually find their way to the surface in Americana evangelical circles but just like the Genesis debate it will take a few generations to gain traction. Religion moves mighty slowly for the masses but for those with the time to investigate you can get a jump start and see the future now. Just like Moses you can see the Promised Land from a distance. 😉

  • TJR

    Darrin, great comment. I think Augustine was overly concerned with Pelagius when he developed his idea of original sin. About, the day you eat you shall die, I think what this means is the loss of the chance for immortality, which is a common theme in ANE lit. Luke #8 about Adam as Israel I would say don’t jump in with both feet. I like most everything Pete has written but I think he is wrong about this. Sure there are similarities with the Adam and Israel stories but there are also major differences.

  • CGC

    TJR said, “Sure there are similarities with the Adam and Israel stories but there are also major differences.” I am gone all day tommorow but I might have a few minutes in the morning before I leave but I would like to see this spelled out some more. I like the way Darrin and Norman unpacked their viewpoints. TJR, I hope you (or others) can unpack this some more because I think this would be interesting to examine the connections or disconnections or how this discussion plays out. Shalom!

  • TJR

    Hi CGC, sorry for not unpacking my Adam/Israel viewpoint the problem is that it takes me a long time to put my thoughts down and I only had a short amount of time as my dinner was getting cold. What I wanted to do was to let Luke know that not everyone buys into the Adam is Israel I had no intention to make a case against it. As you say it would be interesting to examine but it might be a bit off topic on this post, as Scot didn’t bring it up and there are lots of other important points he did make. Never the less I will say that the main point of the story is that Adam is the father of all humanity. Later all die in the flood except Noah, sons, and wives. The three sons account for all people and Israel is traced back to Shem. The Adam is Israel is an interesting point you can take it or leave it but its not the main point of the story.

  • CGC

    Hi TJR,
    Thanks for your response. I understand Israel geneologically getting traced back to Shem (there is this powerful contrast I think many miss between the faithful seed of Shem and the unfaithful seed of Cain). I for one would like to do a study on how did exilic and post-exilic Israel view Adam historically (this may give more hints or clues on how firm or how weak this viewpoint might be). I would also add, even if your point was true that the Adam/Israel viewpoint in not the main point, even if it’s a lesser point, I’m not so sure I would want to take the “take it or leave it approach.” Would we want to do that with other Scriptures?

    Anyhow, I understand the dynamics but there is a kind of irony from my perspective on Evangelicals loving Kenneth Bailley’s insights of the Prodigal son story being a story about Israel and hating Peter Enn’s insights of the story of Adam being also construed as a story about Israel. In the end, I think what might be more important is how did ancient Israel view these stories versus what some modern Christian interpreters tell us either from the theological right or left.


  • Norman

    One can tell what Israel felt about the Adam and Eve story by examining how they constructed and used its story line in the rest of their literature. As I have stated before there is a huge body of work from their perspective that works with these concepts found in literature of the 2T period that we ignore at our loss. Adam is a historic figure IMO but it is a representative figure that the Hebrews embraced and developed their concepts, themes and theological pursuits around. It’s very much in the mold of ANE constructs like the Romulus and Remus account of the origins of Rome in which we know the account is a construct but it also represents the reality of a historical people. Rome just didn’t appear out of no where fully formed. The Jews essentially named their projenitor Adam after the word taken from the Land which is descriptive and means man but is not the only Hebrew word for man. Aw-dawm (adam) essentially means “covenant man” and not universal generic man. So even in the name they chose there is a subtle recognition that Adam represented Israel’s faith origins. They didn’t have a clue when the first man that their people arose from came from so they constructed a story to represent their heritage which also reflected their most important theological issues which was an inept system of worshiping God through corrupt priest hood. The Cain and Abel story is the first hint that the construction of Cain represents their corrupt murderous priest hood that was jealous of their younger brother who was inclined to the spiritual shepherding ways.

    These stories and especially the Flood account are constructs of judgment that is looming against Israel and their corruption. We see this in much more detail as we move into the major and minor prophets who are constantly ranting against this problem. Genesis came out of this revolutionary messianic mindset. They wrote these revolutionary story lines in a veiled form of literature that those in the know or spirit lead over the centuries all identified with. It had it’s natural conclusion with Christ who came and overthrew the system just as they were projecting.

  • Bev Mitchell

    This conversation has taken a wonderful turn, especially thanks to the contributions by Darrin (23) and Norman (26)! Hopefully we can keep it going here and in other places. In addition to Darrin’s book, what others along these lines have people found helpful? (on this specific group of subjects:) )

    So far nothing has been said about the genesis of sin, which I think it is better to call rebellion when discussing sin’s origin. A stage setting for God’s great words “Let there be light!” could go something like the following: If  we agree with Athenagoras, Satan was given authority over matter (that God created) before material life appeared, then he rebelled. Speculating from this, it is likely that in addition to being a miser with the matter he supervises,  Satan wants only disorder, ruling out life of any kind. He wants matter in as disorganized a state as possible.  Under his management, before God’s intervention, the place was a mess!

    see Greg Boyd “Satan and the Problem of Evil” pg. 294 for the reference to Athenagoras.

    It would be great to add some discussion of the spiritual origin of rebellion to the great insights on spiritual death vs physical death.

  • Jon G

    Bev –
    Indeed! This conversation has taken a great turn and (RJS) I hope we can do some follow up discussions on this.

    Bev, you asked about the “genesis of sin”. I see this as a question that presumes sin follows a progression – that it had a certain beginning in time – that we (each) sin because it was introduced by someone other than ourselves into the world.

    While it may be true (actually certainly is true) that people sinned before we came upon the scene, I view sin, not as a continuing process passed from one generation to another, but as a bent…in other words we all have a tendency to sin.

    If one looks at each individual, not on the basis of what they do (wrong or right actions), but what they are, you will see that every person places (or has placed) something at the center of their life which motivates their actions. So, for instance, a baby has his own survival oriented needs as the center or whole of his attention. As a result, every action taken by that baby is self-centered (crying, sleeping, etc). As that baby grows up into adolescence, they will make other things the center, like play, collection of toys, freewill, etc. Eventually, moving into adulthood, still other things become the center like accumulation of wealth, love, family, etc.

    Sin, as I see it, is placing something at your center other than God (idolatry). Those other things are not bad, per se, but as our one driving force they become idols. Besides, with God as the center, those things carry new significance.

    Anyway, under this view, characterizing sin as having a genesis isn’t really applicable. It isn’t looked at as an entity which has a force of it’s own, but a description of what happens when we follow our natural tendencies rather than those in line with the new heart God has given us.


  • Darrin W Snyder Belousek

    Thanks, friends, for the several responses to my comment.

    Concerning AHH @25:

    I don’t say that Paul himself understood Adam as a symbolic figure. It seems clear enough, as I do say, that he takes Adam to be an historical figure. In his speech at Athens (Acts 17) he speaks of all humanity being descended from “from one [ancestor]” (v. 26). Now, his Greek audience would not know the Genesis story, so (in apologetic mode) Paul does not name this first human “Adam,” but clearly he is referring to the biblical Adam of Genesis 2. So, yes, evidently Paul thinks of Adam as a real historical figure.

    But see the very important implication here: Paul does not need to cite the biblical story of human origins in order for the basic idea to make sense to the Greek philosophers. Why? Because the story of all humans beings descended from a first pair is simply common sense. It was then, it is now. That is, his Greek audience already believed what he was telling them based on natural reasoning. The idea of all humans descended from a first pair is simply the inversion of a genealogy by which we track our family descent. Imagine a family genealogy: several generations of descendents (children and grandchildren) traced back to an original pair (parents). Just iterate that backwards from many families and over man generations, add in the logical idea (maintained by the Greek philosophers) that “from nothing comes nothing,” and you arrive at positing a first pair as the best (most natural) explanation of the origins of all families based on ordinary experience and common sense.

    Here’s my point: We don’t need to suppose that Paul himself took a merely symbolic approach to interpreting Genesis. Surely the “first Adam/second Adam” is an allegorical appropriation of the biblical narrative, but I think it’s safe to say that Paul held to an underlying literal reading of that narrative and saw the allegorical as supervening on the literal. And, I would suggest, he maintained (i.e., never questioned) that underlying literal reading, not because he thought it to be biblically inspired, but because it was in full accord with common sense.

    Consider this analogy: The creation text of Genesis 1 depicts the ordering of a world that remarkably resembles the cosmos of ANE cultures: a flat-disc earth supported by foundations above a subterranean sea (“the deep”); a solid sky-dome (“firmament”) upheld by pillars (mountains) overarching the earth, separating the waters “below” from the waters “above” and in which the lights of heaven (sun, moon and stars) are placed. I think it can be quite plausibly argued that the biblical account does not intend to teach the original audience to believe in that cosmology–they already believe it, because it was common-cultural sense to believe that. What Genesis 1 intends to teach is that the cosmic order is created by the one God (the God of Israel) and is created harmonious, good, etc. All biblical writers, as far as I can tell, explicitly or implicitly endorse that cosmology. Even the early Christians–see the Philippians 2 hymn that refers to “in heaven, on earth, and under the earth,” the three dimensions of this ancient cosmology. Paul, I assume, would have believed this, too. It doesn’t follow, however, that we must believe that cosmology. What we must believe, rather, is the theology that the Bible intends to teach by means of that ancient cosmology (which was useful to the Holy Spirit precisely because it was the common belief). What is inspired and infallible is the theological message, not the ancient cosmology.

    So, too, I would argue regarding the historical Adam. Yes, the biblical accounts of human origins all affirm or at least assume a universal descent from a first pair. Why? Because that is what the Holy Spirit intends to teach us? No. Rather, because that was the common belief about human origins, which was useful to the Holy Spirit as a means to teach theological truths. What we need to ask is what the Bible is teaching us about human origins/nature by means of this common sense account. It is that theological understanding of human origins/nature that is inspired and infallible, not the common sense account of human origins. We can thus let Paul have his literal-historical reading of Adam, but we need not be committed to that in order to preserve biblical authority.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Well put. One work of the Holy Spirit is to call and enable us to move the centre of our being from ourselves (the natural condition) to Christ – we are called to be in Christ and Christ promises to be  in us. 

    On the original rebellion front however, Scripture speaks often of spiritual rebellion against God that comes from spiritual agents, including their leader the devil. Not a good topic for polite company, we realize, but biblical nevertheless – unless we allegorize it away, something the early fathers did not do. Sin as the absence of the good only takes us so far, it seems. There really does appear to be a spiritual battle going on in spiritual reality, as well as the spiritual battle going on in us, with which we are all too familiar. It seems clear that the two would be related, if they both exist. And, if the spiritual battle in spiritual reality rages, we are naturally curious about its origins.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Whoops. 35 is addressed to 33

  • TJR

    CGC #30 sorry I was not clear about this I thought the reference to Noah’s three sons would let you know I meant Noah’s son Shem. He along with Ham and Japheth where seen as the fathers of all humanity. Look at Gen. 8:15-9:17 the covenant is with all humanity. There are ten generations from Shem to Abram therefore the people of Israel descended from Abram and thus from Shem. All humanity descended from Noah and Noah descended from Adam. So you can say that Israel descended from Adam but so did everybody. There may be a neat literary parallel between the Adam in the garden story and Israel’s story but to say that Adam is Israel is going too far for me.

  • AHH

    Darrin @34,

    I agree with everything you say about Paul and Adam and ancient cosmology, with the idea that the Holy Spirit worked in inspiration (in Genesis and in Paul’s writings) to communicate the important theological truths within the commonly accepted thought concepts of the culture.

    My point in #25 was that, to those who adopt a typical Evangelical hermeneutic, the idea that Paul’s culturally conditioned background assumption that Adam was historical could have been mistaken is hard to reconcile with their approach to Scripture. So that making constructive progress in this area depends not only on rethinking doctrines of sin, but also on recalibrating common evangelical assumptions about how God worked through finite and fallible humans to inspire Scripture — developing an approach that does justice to the Bible we actually have rather than the Bible that Enlightenment ideas have led some to expect/demand.

  • DeVos11

    Can fiction have truth? Does the “Chronicals of Narnia” have Biblical truth? If we can understand the doctrines laying under the surface in the “Chronicals of Narnia” by CS Lewis, shouldn’t we look at Gensis the same way?

    The issue seems to be centered around how we endagered our selves when Adam & Eve sined there by sentencing ourselves to death as punishment. I don’t think we should focus on Gensis as the reciepe for how death entered into our lives, but read into it that, unlike Enoch, we choose not to walk with God. The story of eating an apple is just that a story, like Asland the lion in the Chronicals of Narnia, the truth lies underneath. The truth is that our selfish wants have separated us from our Creator and in the process our spirits are a drift in an ocean of chaos.

    What if we were always meant to die but our spirit was not? What if our real death is separation from God in spirit and in body, and that it is our spirit that has a relationship with God not our body? Does our flesh give us our spirit? I know the whole separation of body / spirit is not the best theology but I am unsure how to knit the science of biology and cosmology into a Judeo Christian fall redemption theology. Hence we are all struggling with this issue.

  • Darrin W Snyder Belousek

    AHH @38

    I agree entirely. The bottom-line issue here is our presuppositions about Scripture that then orient our reading of Scripture. And that, unlike rethinking theological doctrines, is not something that can be addressed directly b/c it is formational.

  • Norman

    I want to revisit Adam and the Garden through Paul’s eyes again. Paul makes a significant statement in Rom 5:12-14 when he casually mentions that “sin” was in the world but it was not held accountable until the law or commandment came. He reaffirms this again in Rom 7:9-11. What Paul is driving home is that when Adam was originally placed in the Garden relationship with God his sins were not held against him (This does not mean that those outside a faithful Garden relationship had their sins not counted). Does this ring a bell for our relationship through Christ now with our “sins” not held accountable toward us when we are in covenant fellowship with God? This means the theoretical Garden should have been a place where the ancient people of faith would have the benefit of eternal life through that relationship just as we receive through Christ.

    However the fall that occurs is not a physical or biological event but is a covenant event in which Adam or likeminded faithful like Israel lost their access to this forgiveness because through the wily beast (Satan) they became enamored with their own methodologies for righteousness that God freely would otherwise provide. They shunned God’s intent and put it upon themselves and thus developed the “works of the flesh”. Paul describes “the Sin” in Romans 5-8 as a specific sin that invalidated their eternal life expected through a faith walk with God. “The Sin” superseded as a specific indictment eternal life and that “sin” specifically was the imposition of the commandment or law keeping that Adam/Israel embarked upon. Read carefully Romans 7-8 and you will see how Paul is spelling out that through Christ the faithful will be reconnected with God instead of alienated because of their previous propensity for the works of the Law instead of God’s Grace.

    Christ has reestablished the Garden (symbolism of relationship with God) in a manner that keeps Satan out of the plan. If we study the Satan Character closely he is most often associated with the misguided, abusing and mortal priest hood of Israel that derived their power from overseeing the traditions, sacrifices and forgiveness of sins. Read all of Ezekiel 34 for a good overview synopsis of how they were negatively discerned by the prophets up until Christ Himself accused them. The Heavenly war is between the rulers of the flesh represented by corrupt Priest and the higher heavenly Priesthood of Christ established by God but it also extended into the Gentile ranks of the Nations via emperor worship that put men above God. Christ destroyed that by setting the standard that would forever remain out of reach of mortals as the means to walk with God. Unless we choose to reject that blessing.

    Sins again are natural characteristic of humanity through the eyes of Paul and the relief from them comes from repenting of the specific sin that destroyed that providential entitlement of a Godly relationship. The story of Adam and Israel through Pauls’ eyes is the good riddance of the Law as a burden upon faithful people of God.

    This concluding verse of Paul wraps up the concept concisely and it’s not talking about individual sin but a specific sin related to law seeking.

    1 Cor 15: 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    Lots of wonderful comments on this issue. Great discussion Darrin W Snyder Belousek. Norman, you are doing good stuff with your rethinking of Romans, etc.

    Still for so many others who haven’t commented, have you forgotten to read Gen. 4? There is no assumption that Adam and Eve were the first humans, or that they were the only humans at that time. “Cain knew his wife,” and WHAT? Oh, and she (his mother?) bore Enoch, …and to Enoch was born Irad (by his grandmother?), …. and Lamech took two wives (a schizophrenic great-grand-mother??), and ….
    Come on, it is obvious that there were other humans at the time of Adam and Eve ACCORDING TO GENESIS!!!! All this obsessing on Adam and Eve as the FIRST PEOPLE is so tiresome. Get a grip, get a biblical theology; reframe the tired old dialogue. Please!