Bilbo–I Mean, Adam–Was a Historical Person (and Ken Ham has a poster to prove it)

Before I get going here, I want to be crystal clear about something. I am not remotely interested in trying to change Ken Ham’s mind about Genesis. Nor am I trying to raid his flock and steal his sheep.

But quite often he says things that are transparently wrong and highly misleading. My concern is for those who are being mislead and have perhaps begun to sense it, and might be looking for voices to confirm their suspicions and finding a way forward.

Which brings me to today’s topic, the “wall chart” (a.k.a., poster) you see below.

On the Answers in Genesis website, you can purchase this 11 x 17 poster for $1.99 or download it for 99 cents. It is recommend for ages 12 and up, and its “technicality” level is described for the discerning customer as “adult.”

The poster is further described as follows:

Attempting to bridge the gap between evolution and the Bible’s clear teaching about creation, some Christian leaders have tried many creative ways to reinterpret Scripture. Today a new focus is upon Adam as a real, historical person. Did God create the first human being from nonliving matter and breathe life into him, or is another interpretation possible? Scripture doesn’t leave room for doubt. This exclusive wall chart shows that the Bible is clear: Adam was a historical person.

So, to sum up: Ham (or, to be fair, likely Ham’s biblical advisors) feels this poster summarizes an adult-level argument for why his position on Adam is the only one worthy of Christian consideration, and any resistance to the plain truth of Scripture futile.

Leaving this sales pitch to the side, I am more interested in the substance of the five points:

1. Genesis 1-3 is written as literal history.

2. Adam’s activities require a physical body.

3. Adam is the first man in Christ’s unbroken genealogy.

4. The rest of the Bible references Adam as a literal person.

5. The Gospel depends on a literal Adam.

Putting on my Old Testament scholar hat–and in the interest of space–I am only going to make some remarks here about the first two points. I may decide to come back to the other three in the future.

The arguments given under each of these two main points are hard to see on the picture I’ve posted, likewise on the website–even if you enlarge it. But I was able to squint a bit and see exactly what Ham is getting at.

Simply put, the “arguments” made here are standard ones from Answers in Genesis, and they are utter nonsense. Rather than offering sound reasons for the historicity of Adam, Ham is displaying his own misinformed opinions.

No one with any background in biblical Hebrew or who is minimally conversant with the nature of biblical narrative–or just narrative in general–would tolerate this type of confused reasoning.

I know that sounds harsh, but no one should interpret this as a personal attack. We are discussing ideas and Ham enterains bad ones in a very public venue. To accuse someone of having glaring gaps in their knowledge is not a personal attack. We all have such gaps about a good many things, but the wise man or woman will know what those areas are, tread carefully, and be open to wise counsel (Proverbs 1:5).

Anyway, we are told in this poster that (1) Genesis 1-3 is written as literal history. How does Ham know this? Because:

a. These chapters show no poetic parallelism, but are narrative–just like the narratives of the rest of the OT, which are historical. Therefore Genesis 1-3 is historical, too.

b. All of Genesis is one seamless history, and since the rest of Genesis is historical, so are the first 3 chapters.

c. Genesis is united by the recurring refrain “these are the accounts of.” Hence, all of Genesis is historical.

d. Since Genesis 1-11 refers to things like day and night and mentions locations like Mt. Ararat where the ark rested, it is therefore historical.

Ham’s second point argues in a similar vein:

e. Since Adam did things like name the animals, slept, tended a garden, and had a lifespan, he must be human.

“Historical” Bilbo.

If I may be blunt, it does not take much effort to see a crippling problem with Ham’s reasoning, especially with respect to d and e, but also indirectly a-c: Fictional stories also have characters who do physical things and recount the flow of time.

Pick your favorite completely made up, fictional story, and you will see (1) characters who do things that require a physical body, (2) characters doing things that require the passage of time (i.e., “history”), and (3) a world with day and night and places that have names.

The fact that Genesis does these things does not make Genesis historical anymore than the characters in The Hobbit or the Epic of Gilgamesh “must” be historical.

Ham’s poster is not an argument for why Adam and Genesis as a whole must be historical. It is only telling us how Ham reads Genesis having already assumed the point that has to be argued.

“Historical” Gilgamesh (left) and “historical” half beast friend Enkidu defeating the goddess Inanna’s Bull of Heaven.

In other words, we do not see here an argument but an exertion of the will that relies wholly on rhetoric to be effective, with no substance whatsoever.

The poster tells us more about Ham than it does Adam or Genesis.

Similarly, look at point “a” about the alleged absence of poetry in Genesis 1-3. One one level I have no major quarrel with this observation, but more with how Ham manipulates this information.

First, “no poetry in Genesis 1-3” is an overstatement, and therefore incorrect. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2-3 are widely understood to display different literary styles.

Genesis 1 is not poetic as one might see in, say Proverbs or Psalms, but it clearly has a more “poetic” structure than Genesis 2-3 or biblical narrative in general, as we can see by the six-day pattern. On Days 1-3 God provides the space for what he will create on Days 4-6. Days 1 (light) corresponds to Day 4 (sun, moon, and stars), Day 2 (division of waters above and below to create sky) corresponds to air and sea creatures created on Day 5, and Day 3 (dry land) corresponds to Day 6 where and creature, and humans, are created.

Genesis 1 is not “normal” biblical narrative. It certainly can’t be lumped into the same category as Genesis 2-3 (in part also because of how these stories describe differently proto-history, but that is another topic) or the rest of Genesis.

But I digress, since the main issue here is chapters 2 and 3, and here the point Ham is aiming for collapses under the slightest scrutiny. Ham seems quite intent to claim that Genesis 1-3 is narrative. Why? Because Ham mistakenly thinks that narrative is the proper vehicle for communicating history, whereas poetry is open to things like metaphor, imagery, and hyperbole. Narrative is what lets you get the “facts” across, whereas poetry may not.

But here the same point holds as above. A narrative presentation has no necessary correlation–none, zip–with historicity. Again, stories of various degrees of historical value–from zero t0 100%–are presented as narratives.

(I would add that poetic expressions can also be the vehicle for story/history. One example is Psalm 78, which rehearses Israel’s redemptive history, but again that is another topic.)

Bottom line, Ham mistakes his opinion for biblical argument, which is a recurring problem in his apologetic. What lies behind Ham’s alleged open and shut case for Adam is not what the Bible says, but what he presumes it to mean–what he needs it to mean. He assumes the very thing that has to be proved, and then unleashes himself on an unsuspecting text and–surprise–finds it.

Frankly, I’m really not sure why we are even discussing this. As an argument, the poster is useless. As propaganda, it is quite clever indeed.

What I think about NOMA (not the ex-Red Sox shortstop but the evolution thing)
Adam’s Fall and Early Christian Notions of Sin
best book on evolution and faith I've read in years (or, constructing a cathedral in your mind)
11 recurring mistakes in the debate over the “historical Adam.”
  • descalzo

    I agree that a narrative with realistic characters is not evidence of historical truth, and taken alone, it is a weak argument. But I think points 3-5 are more important. How did the original audience understand it, and does the gospel make sense without it? As I read Romans 5, I think Paul believed there was a single historical man named Adam who brought sin into the world.

  • Levi

    I must have missed the verse that says the Bible is inerrant. Was it 2 Hezekiah 3:17 or 1 Peter 6:32?

    Young earthers like Ham are running about shouting “Inspired! Infallible!” like Vizzini shouting “Inconceivable!” My response is the same as Inigo Montoya’s: Scripture is true, but it does not mean what you think it means.

  • DataLaForge

    In the second paragraph, please change “mislead” to “misled” and delete my comment.

    • peteenns

      what “second paragraph” and which comment do you want me to delete?