Evangelicals Reading Genesis 1-2

That someone like RJS, a fellow blogger here at Jesus Creed, can discuss Bible and science on most Tuesdays and Thursdays, which often enough returns to Genesis 1–2, routinely and still generate conversation after conversation of interest reveals the significance of this topic among many Christians, especially evangelicals. As indicated, the conversation ends up discussion Genesis 1–2, the creation of Adam and Eve, the historical Adam and Eve, and how theology flows out of a historical Adam/Eve or if it can flow from a less than historical Adam/Eve.

Why do all discussions of science and faith come back to Adam (and Eve)? Do you think those who say there “must” be a historical Adam and Eve are putting themselves into losing posture? Do you think those who say Adam and Eve “couldn’t have been” the original humans deny the essence of the Christian message?

An observation: We often speak of a historical Adam and forget Eve, but this must be corrected as often as appropriate — as Junia was silenced, as women in the history of the church have been silenced (see my Junia is Not Alone), so Eve gets silenced by colonizing here into the word “Adam.” Let’s do this better.

Anyway, that’s not the point of this post, which is to begin a series on J. Daryl Charles (ed.), Reading Genesis 1–2: An Evangelical Conversation. There are now (at least) five views of how to read Genesis 1–2 among evangelicals, which is a bit of a message in itself, and this book opens with Richard Averbeck’s reading of Genesis 1–2. (Chps are written by Averbeck, Beall, Collins, Longman, and Walton.)

Some highlights: he offers a literary reading of Genesis 1–2 with occasional ventures into “this must be historical” but which a times takes a literary reading instead of a literal reading, and frankly there’s not a theoretical discussion of how to know when and when not to do such a thing … and I guess that’s OK since that would lead to a much, much longer chapter. Some conclusions:

1. Genesis 1:1 is the title and not the first act of creation.
2. He reads Genesis 1–2 in the context of Ancient Near East (ANE) texts and also in consort with Psalm 104.
3. His approach modifies the “framework hypothesis” (never defined), but refers to Days 1-3 being filled in Days 4-6. The framework theory is often opposed by the more “literalistic” readings (vs. literary readings).
4. Genesis 1–2 corresponds to observational realities of ancient peoples, so that the language speaks analogically (how one knows it is analogy is up for debate) of material, earthy, cosmic realities in the way they perceive those realities.
5. The 7-day week is not literal but literary, and is an analogy to the human 7-day week.
6. The point of the text is to inform Israel that God is the one true Creator who created all, including humans, and that the earth is like a temple in which God has placed Adam and Eve to rule on God’s behalf.
7. There was a real, historical Adam and Eve.
8. Beall and Collins mostly affirm him; Longman and Walton push back, increasingly so.

Averbeck’s study is nuanced, more than I can give here, but there is a tension for me in a literary approach that gets literal/historical/physical at times and at other times suspends the literal and historical for the literary. He does not privilege science; he may disprivilege it in two ways: by not bringing in the science of origins, including scholarship screaming for attention here, and by then claiming historical (that is, ultimately, scientific) conclusions that do not square with modern science. In general it seems he has a bit of a separate magisteria approach with occasional claims of a traditionalist nature.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Susan_G1

    “Why do all discussions of science and faith come back to Adam
    (and Eve)?”

    Perhaps. Certainly creation and theodicy needs to interact with science in a credible way, and much of it starts here. Not to deny the central fact of Christ’s life, death, and ressurection as a sacrifice for us all.

    “Do you think those who say there “must” be a historical Adam
    and Eve are putting themselves into losing posture?”

    In my opinion, yes. It may not mean much to Evangelicals who hold to a historical Adam and Eve, but they can not engage people who know science and believe in evolution credibly while denying the science. “Losing” what? A debate? A following? An opportunity to witness effectively to the scientifically literate?

    Do you think those
    who say Adam and Eve “couldn’t have been” the original humans deny the
    essence of the Christian message?

    Absolutely not. Christ is at the center of Christian faith.

  • AHH

    It seems strange for such a work to be about “Genesis 1-2″. Aren’t Genesis 2-3 considered a single literary unit?
    As Scot points out, the real tough issues arise with Adam & Eve, and in particular with the Genesis 3 part of the garden story (with its interpretation by Augustine and its use by Paul).

    If all these scholars (and other Evangelicals) can agree that the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 should be read as theological literature and not as literal scientific history (points 1-6 above), that is a good thing. But if the authors stop short of addressing Genesis 3, they would seem to be dodging the most serious issues.

  • AHH

    BTW, Scot, the links to this post from the “Recent Comments” section don’t work. Looks like that section ended up with the wrong date embedded in the links.
    This seems to be a pretty common bug since the switch to Disqus — happens for maybe 25% of the posts.

  • Norman

    I tend to the idea that Augustine got most of it right in his Tractate 9:6 outline of Gen 1’s 6 Days. He follows a common OT and 2nd T Jewish tradition of assigning the Days of Genesis as ages or periods of the Old Covenant as fulfilled history until the dawn of the new Covenant which began with Christ. Following Augustine has the benefit of following closely how these pieces of literature were originally intended to be interpreted IMO.

    Augustine Tractate 9: “Thence down to the time in which we are now living are six ages, this being the sixth, as you have often heard and know. The first age is reckoned from Adam to Noah; the second, from Noah to Abraham; and, as Matthew the evangelist duly follows and distinguishes, the third, from Abraham to David; the fourth, from David to the carrying away into Babylon; the fifth, from the carrying away into Babylon to John the Baptist; Matthew 1:17 the sixth, from John the Baptist to the end of the world. Moreover, God made man after His own image on the sixth day, because in this sixth age is manifested the renewing of our mind through the gospel, after the image of Him who created us;”

    A couple of points. I think how one knows to read Genesis analogically is not as difficult to decipher as is often let on. A systematic study of the ancient Jewish literature pretty well backs that process up as the preferred method of interpretation by the Jews themselves. When you factor out the literal reading historical church tendency toward literalness then you get a more realistic understanding of Jewish methods.

    Therefore IMO Gen 1 acts as an introductory prologue to what is going to happen systematically to Israel throughout it’s Old Covenant 6 ages until the advent of messiah when only then will the completion of the Image of God upon the Adam’s will be complete. That is also pretty well how Paul interprets the completion of the Image and the end of the 6th Day when God will then only enter His rest from his work. When we realize that Gen 1 is not past but was past, present and future then it makes sense of Christ declaration in John 5 that the “Father was still working” as His rest was not yet ready until Christ had finished His.

  • Paul Bruggink

    “Why do all discussions of science and faith come back to Adam (and Eve)?”

    Because Christians who don’t want to accept all of the implications of biological evolution seem to believe that Paul’s references to Adam in the New Testament are strong evidence for an historical Adam.

    The primary focus of the Bible/science debate has shifted from young earth vs. old earth to creation vs. evolution to historical Adam: yes or no.

    This will continue to be the focus until more Christian theologians and philosophers join John Bimson, Robin Collins, Peter Enns, Daniel Harlow, Christopher Hays, William Joseph, Denis Lamoureux and John Schneider (did I leave anyone out?) in attempting deal with this specific issue, namely your second and third questions.

  • Patrick

    Maybe Adam is both historic and not meant to be seen as the first human, there are researchers such as Michael Heiser who say the text may point that direction IF one can read it w/o preconceptions.

    http://michaelsheiser.com/TheNakedBible/2012/07/genesis-13-face-compatible-genome-research/

    I think the Adam is myth view might end up being a dead end if that turns into a concensus . The Adam/ Israel typology looks accurate.

  • Norman

    I accept the idea that Adam represents Israel, yet I also believe that since Israel was a historical people they did indeed have an origin that begin with a faith seeking person/people. Adam represents that to a degree although he represents much more IMO. Christ as the last Adam reinforces the concept that Paul was ok with the analogical application just as he was with the woman in Genesis 2 representing the church.

  • patriciamc

    Scot, thank you so much for you and RJS pointing out that it’s wrong to reference Adam and not Eve. Humanity cannot be fully represented by either alone, but only by both together. They’re a matched set (yes, I am kind of comparing Adam and Eve to salt and pepper shakers!)

  • Herman Grobler

    Scott, thank you for this interesting post on Genesis 1-3.

    You point out that J. Daryl Charles “… modifies the “framework hypothesis” (never defined), but refers to Days 1-3 being filled in Days 4-6…” When I visited my children in New Zealand last year, God revealed some very interesting ways in which the fauna and flora of that island confirm this understanding of Genesis 1, but also some interesting points to ponder on evolution and Genesis 2-3. With AHH I also consider Gen.2-3 as a single literary unit. I trust that this link would bring you to my post: http://bibledifferences.net/2012/09/25/62-new-zealand-and-genesis-1-3/ Otherwise you can look up the verses on the page “Scriptures” on my blog and follow that link. (bibledifferences.net) I would love your comments.
    I study the causes for the differences between older versions of the Bible like the KJV and modern versions like the NIV.

    Norman, I always find metaphorical interpretation of Scripture like that of Augustine interesting. But that leaves the field open to the fanciful creativity of the mind! Thanks anyway for quoting Augustine on this verse.
    God Bless,
    Herman of bibledifferences.net

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    I highly recommend John Walton’s lecture series available for download here:
    http://www.gospelconversations.com/364/
    since it deals directly and predominantly textually and analytically with Adam/Eve as representative (archetypal) AND historical in relation to various Christian (theological) approaches to Evolution (scientific). Sessions 2 and 3 seem to do an extraordinary job of re-framing the issues in a most helpful manner.

  • Herman Grobler

    Scott, thank you for this post.

    When my wife and I visited our children in New Zealand last year, the Lord opened my eyes for the interesting way the fauna and flora of that island confirms certain facts of Genesis 1-3. Though I study the causes for the differences between older versions of the Bible like the KJV and modern versions like the NIV, I couldn’t resist to post on New Zealand and Creation. (http://bibledifferences.net/2012/09/25/62-new-zealand-and-genesis-1-3/) I agree with Charles in point 3: ‘ “framework hypothesis” (never defined), but refers to Days 1-3 being filled in Days 4-6. The framework theory is often opposed by the more “literalistic” readings (vs. literary readings).

    And that chapters 2-3 should be read as a whole like AHH says. Genesis 1 is in my humble opinion a poem to glorify God the Creator, rather than a day to day account of how God created the universe.
    God bless,
    Herman of bibledifferences.net

  • Ken Duncan

    I know I’m late for this discussion but want to speak to Scot’s good questions. The reason the debate eventually comes to Adam _and_ Eve is simple I think. Various ways can be taken to read Genesis 1-2 as sort of related in some way to the narrative of scientists (since science is not an entity but a topic of study, science cannot say anything) about where the universe and life on earth came from. There is no way in the view of many to make peace with Genesis 3 if Adam and Eve are real and macro-biological evolution. So various writers recently have invented methods of reading Genesis or Paul that get them out of this dilemma but the but the cost is high and from what I can tell, any student who used such an approach on an assignment would get serious red ink from me.

    I think that two things are going on. First, determining the genre of Genesis (the last time I looked, nothing in the Hebrew text suggests that the genre changes at Gen 12:1, so whatever is done with Genesis 1 applies to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, etc., if we are going to be consistent. In my own area of specialization, Luke-Acts, we know what Hellenistic historiography is about because there are primary sources like Thucydides, Seutonius, and Lucian, who tell us. In the case of ANE material, there is no such discussion. I know it’s common to speak of things like Enuna Elish as myth, but there is no evidence that the scholarly meaning for that word has any validity at all. Where is the 2nd millennium text that says, “When you read a creation story, here is how to understand what is gong on…” Without that, no one can say with certainty how Genesis should be read.

    The second problem that I see is the treatment of what scientists say as inerrant. Peter Enns, Karl Giberson, and others never suggest even the most remote possibility that scientists might be wrong in how they interpret the raw data. So if scientists are inerrant (functionally at least), then we either reject big chunks of the Bible as simply wrong, not least the words of Jesus and Paul, or you have to invent hermeneutics that are highly problematic.

    The issue comes down to Adam and Eve for me because I refuse to accept the hermeneutic that I see practiced by people like Enns and Giberson: You can have your cake and eat it too. In my view, if we are to believe what scientists say about the world, then no deity was needed for humans to come into existence. Evolution is the only explanation needed. That doesn’t mean you can’t believe in some deity but it certainly not one that we would owe any allegiance to. If we accept what scientists says, we must reject Jesus’ resurrection because bodies do not spontaneously come back to life after three days. I even heard a paleontologist who claims to be a Christian make that claim: the resurrection of Jesus didn’t happen. How you can reject the resurrection but claim to be a Christian is something that is open to debate. I heard a lecture by Karl Giberson,. He insisted that evolution is true. I pointed out that this means there was no Adam and Eve. If that’s true, there was no Fall. There has always been death and there has never been evil because creatures like us have always done what we now mistakenly call evil. Therefore, there is no reason for the cross or Jesus’ resurrection. His response is that this is a matter of faith. That sounds like accepting evolution means becoming some sort of gnostic “Christian.” Peter Enns can declare Jesus and Paul wrong about the first human pair,but I’m not going there. It’s not logical to reject Adam and Eve and still claim the orthodox doctrines of the Christian faith. We weren’t made by God, we don’t die because of sin, sin isn’t even a real thing (we act as we do because of our genes), so I sure don’t need to apologize to some Deist deity for anything.


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