Framing the Evangelical Discussion of Adam and Evolution

This past Saturday, I gave a paper at the northeast regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, which met on the campus of Alliance Theological Seminary, Nyack, NY. I was asked to talk about my book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins. It’s no surprise that how I answer this question (Adam is not a historical person) is not in step with how mainstream evangelicalism tends to handle it (Adam definitely is, in some sense, historical). Still, I had a wonderful time, and the discussion afterwards was honest and cordial.

I decided to approach this paper by simply laying out what I think and why I think it–sort of a “here’s where I’m coming from” vibe rather than laying out a position that others should come to. Below, for those interested, are the bullet points of the paper.

  • My starting point for how I handle this issue of Adam is twofold: (1) I accept the overwhelming scientific consensus concerning evolution, and (2) our considerable knowledge of  how ancient stories of origins functioned. These factors affect how we read the Adam story and they cannot be dismissed or marginalized.
  • It strains credulity to think that, of all ancient peoples with origins stories, Israel alone escaped this story-telling mentality and gave us something approximating “history” or “science” in the modern sense.
  • The tensions between evolution and evangelicalism are real and cannot be “fixed” by simply “grafting” evolution onto evangelicalism. The two most common ways of doing that are by (1) making Adam and Eve into a pair of hominids chosen by God to be the “first,” and (2) making Adam and Eve a “gene pool” of the earliest hominid group, according to genetic studies.
  • Both of these options fail because they are ad hoc, i.e., made up to support a position once wishes to maintain. A more spiritually and intellectually satisfying way forward is to leave aside ad hoc explanations and take a more exploratory, dialogical approach to solving the issue.
  • Neither literalism nor inerrancy should be given the status of default positions of orthodoxy. They are themselves theories of how the Bible works that are as open to scrutiny as any.
  • Inerrancy in particular has a difficult time accounting for how the Bible looks so “untended” and “misbehaved” by inerrantist standards.
  • An incarnational model of Scripture, though hardly the last word, is a better way of accounting for how the Bible behaves than an inerrantist model (and C. S. Lewis wasn’t an inerrantist).
  • A well-rounded approach to addressing the Adam issue is the metaphor of a trialogue of three voices: historical context, canonical context, and Christian tradition. None of these voices is dominant or the judge over the others, including “Christian tradition.”
  • The historical context includes ancient origins stories that “calibrate” how Genesis and Paul should be read. The canonical context is three levels: exegetical, Old Testament, and New Testament, and each adds its own complex of issues to the discussion. Christian tradition refers to the various Christian iterations of the gospel, all of which are provisional, not the final word on the gospel. (Fleshing out the “trialogue” metaphor was probably the longest section of the paper and it brought in a lot of issues I discuss in my book.)
  • Theological discomfort should never be the reason for failing to follow through with where the evidence leads.
  • I ended with three underlying big-picture theological issues that evangelicalism will need to address more deliberately in coming to terms about Adam: (1) the role that extra-biblical information can and should play in biblical interpretation; (2) whether inerrancy, regardless of how it is nuanced, is set up to handle this issue; (3) evangelicalism’s willingness to be self-critical and accept criticism or seek guidance from Christian traditions who handle the Adam issue differently.

Two things were clear to me as the day progressed: (1) Evangelicalism has a number of big questions ahead of it for addressing evolution, and I am not sure the evangelical system is designed to move forward without a lot of soul searching and discomfort; (2) Already among their ranks is a critical mass of thoughtful, yet quiet, people who are eager to find ways to move beyond the current impasse.

Time will tell how this will pan out.

  • http://theendofevil.wordpress.com Patrick

    I recently wrote my thoughts down on I and I on my blog, and one person commented that they felt your blog was a lot more cynical in tone than your writings. Though I think you just have a more realistic perspective of things like Christian academia and biblical study (which is occasionally cynical) I love it when you post stuff like this. It sounds hopeful for evangelicalism without shying away from the problems that exist. I think that, as time goes on, evangelicals are going to wake up to the fact that their creedal views are actually what stands between them and God, and when that day comes, good, good things are going to happen for the Church.

    • peteenns

      Thanks for your comment. By the way, FYI, I wrote a review of Beale’s book back in 2009 in Bulletin for Biblical Research, if you want to know my response.

  • Brian P.

    In wonder how difficult it would be to do a parallelization of this focused on the Resurrection of the Second Adam rather than the birth of the First.

  • http://the3150.wordpress.com Dan

    The Evangelical movement could definitely benefit by taking a page out of Catholicism’s playbook. The Catholic church has held unwaveringly to historical orthodox Christian belief and morality and yet has come to embrace most modern critical scholarship (with the exception of more extreme historical Jesus studies and while holding that the historical-critical method is not the only way to approach Sacred Scripture). This is done by holding precisely to an incarnational and condescending understanding of the Bible (the incarnational analogy applied to Scripture goes back well into the first millenium). This may remove some of the “slippery slope” fear that I think is key in keeping more Evangelicals from accepting the consensus of scientific and biblical studies. Then again, maybe when your only authority is Scripture (applied/interpreted by the individual) rather than Scripture understood in union with the tradition of the Church and the ongoing teaching authority of the church, your approach to Scripture has to be more rigid and (supposedly) objective.

    Or maybe the solution is to buy every Evangelical in America a copy of Dr. Enns’ The Evolution of Adam.

    • peteenns

      Slight correction: they should all buy their own copy.

  • http://viewfromtheheights.wordpress.com Tom LeGrand

    Very well-stated. Considering the “circling of the wagons” by uber-creationists on this issue, I don’t expect this to go away or be resolved anytime soon. Doubt that it gets resolved at all, to be honest. I am part of a very moderate evangelical church, and this still seems to raise the hair on the back of everyone’s neck. Perhaps many would dislike/disagree with this summary, but you certainly don’t leave a lot of room for anyone to misunderstand your position.

  • http://johnwmorehead.blogspot.com John W. Morehead

    “Already among their ranks is a critical mass of thoughtful, yet quiet, people who are eager to find ways to move beyond the current impasse.”

    Unfortunately, this is largely due to fear of censure or expulsion by the Evangelical gatekeepers and community, particularly among Evangelical leaders.

  • http:augustiniandemocrat.blogspot.com John W Brandkamp

    Sadly, I have to agree with John Morehead above in his assessment. But, I for one, welcome our new self critical overlords… ;) But seriously, I like what I’ve seen here Pete. And Dan, in his comments, reminds me why the Tiber has been so tempting lately. It’s a good thing I can’t swim…

  • Larry S

    Thanks for this post Pete. Your work has helped me stay a Christian.

    I have a 4 year old granddaughter and 1 year old grandson. Work like yours keeps me hopeful when I consider their faith journeys.

    Blessings

  • Stefan

    This is really great.
    I think you really hit the nail on the head. In thinking about the first of your big picture theological points, a question I have often asked is does God reveal himself through natural revelation in the sense that we get a glimpse of his character when we come to understand the natural laws he put into motion. Maybe more specifically, if God used evolution to bring about creation – what does that say about God?
    I appreciate that you don’t sacrifice rationality for the sake of appealing to evangelicalism’s in-group bias. I always chuckle whenever I read how MacArthur thinks Christian evolutionists sell out for academia as if he has no incentives to his theology.
    One thing I’d like you to address more – you seem to put forth a very cordial, relaxed tone to your arguments. Why? Should you not be just as angry/passionate as YECers as MacArthur et al literally make material origins a matter of orthodoxy and thus force thinking peoples into thinking there is some sort of dichotomy between science and faith? I sometimes think about how many young people leave the faith on account of its leaders who preach a gospel contrary to that of the scriptures and it makes me furious. Thoughts?

    • Vickie

      Stefan, check out Anglican theologianSarah Coakley’s recent Gifford Lectures on natural theology, sacrifice, and evolution. She presents the results of her work with biologists such as E. O. Wilson on the role of cooperation, altruism, and cooperation in evolution.

  • James

    If you hit those thoughtful fellows up front with the blunt assertion “Adam is not a historical person,” they might think you too are guilty of ad hoc argument. How about suggesting it really doesn’t matter (our faith is not in jeopardy and the life transforming Word is just as quick and powerful) if individual such as Adam (even Abraham?) did not actually exist in strict, modern, scientific terms? That we are more interesting in getting into the minds of the Biblical authors and the flow of the Grand Story in order to hear the still, small (or shouting) voice of God as he self-presents by his Spirit to our lives of every day? Now if that leads to a discussion of the historicity of Jesus Christ, you are free to bluntly affirm: “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord who…suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and…on the third day he rose again from the dead” and defer to a more suitable time a study of the First Adam in relation to the Second–including all the historical implications.

    • Ken Duncan

      James,
      I realize I’m a minority posting here, but I frankly cannot understand your position. The judgment about the existence of the first Adam is made based solely by Peter (and other posters here) based upon the Scientific meta-narrative: All things are natural; nothing has supernatural anything involved in it; the only facts are scientific; we _know_ that all the data points to maro-biological evolution because–wait for it–we’ve been trained by the Englightenment to think that we can interact directly with external things and have absolutely accurate knowledge of them. This holds true from the Big Bang, which needs no god, as noted by Hawkings, to the existence of human beings, who are _nothing but_ the latest example of genetic mutation and natural selection. I would recommend reading a book or two about epistemology. Scientists never see data. They absolutely always interpret what they think they see or posit to have happened. Even if this problem didn’t exist–which makes the claim that there is overwhelming evidence for evolution highly problematic in the first place, the bigger problem for you, Peter Enns, and others is that, once you sign up for the Scientific metanarrative, there is no god or at least, no god worth trying to learn about. The heavens most absolutely do not declare the glory of God. They declare the random movements of debris from the Big Bang, nothing more, nothing less. The existence of humans is a purely accidental event without any meaning because nothing “guides” genetic mutation.
      These things being true, it is the height of illogical special pleading to say, “Science has told us all about origins. The Bible is wrong any place that it makes a statement that suggests something contrary to this. So there is no First Adam, there was no Fall, there was no Garden, etc. It is just another ANE myth (per Peter Enns). This assumes that Genesis is trying to tell us something about how we got here. On Peter’s analysis, Genesis (from start to finish!!!!!, if we choose to not be self-contradictory) is just another ANE myth. Since there are documents from the ANE that tell us, as Thucydides did for Hellenistic historiography, how to read these myths, there is no empirical reason to not believe that the Sumerians believed the Sumerian creation story to the cuneiform letter. Why do you think that the ancients did not believe that TIamat was an actual being? Why do you think that the Enuna Elish was not believed to be an account of what really happened? I see no reason. The ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, AND ISRAELITES, etc., were simply wrong. If so, let’s stop wasting time and energy on the BIble. Apparently notihng it says is of any value, given that its central claims, threre is a Creator God who made everything and we are responsible to that God and invited to know that God who has left evidence of himself in the alleged *but non-existent” creation. Genesis, being the same thing, one way or another, tells us nothing about how the universe or its inhabitants came into existence. The only thing then that is certain is that even if there is some god, it did not make humans in its image. Science says so. Even if there is a god, it was not sinned against. Science says so. Humans have always been what we are now. We were never perfect, or sinless, or innocent, and have always died, just like everything else. If this scientific _fact_ is true, then it is the height of special pleading to claim that in spite of what science KNOWS, there is still a God who loves us and will save us from our sins through Jesus. That, it seems to me, is intellectual suicide. You are affirming something that you have no reason to affrim. Romans 1 is wrong. There is no god who has left evidence of its existence in the natural world. That’s ridiculous. You need to choose, not say, “Well, yes, the Bible is full of errors in what it says about God’s revelation of himself–Paul is flatly lying or totally confused, either of which makes everything else he has to say unreliable. If the Bible is _wrong_ in its assertion that God created the heavens and the earth, and by a scientific account, it is (not in the details but at the macro level of why the universe is as it is). Think I’m wrong? I asked Karl GIberson after a lecture if his view of evolution did not require the rejection of human sin, Jesus dying for our sins, Jesus’ resurrection (how anti-scientific can you get). Hhe said, “No, because that is a matter of faith.” How does that differ from the flying spaghetti monster that Dawkins harps about when lashing out against theists?
      You cannot hold the Christian meta-narrative, a good god created the universe, including humans, and made them in its image. Humans rebelled, introducing sin into the world, which this god then began working towards dealing with, starting with Abraham, then through Isaac, Jacob, his twelve sons, on to the life of an obscure Jew from a villlage called Nazareth. The foundation of the biblical meta-narrative requires that Genesis is not simply a fictional story intended to make a point, whatever it might be. While you ponder that, prove to me, anybody, that the “incarnational hermeneutic” is valid. Why not the Deconstructionist hermeneutic instead or the feminst hermeneutic, or Dawkin’s hermeneutic. I cannot be intellectually honest and hold to the “Genesis is an ANE myth, but this particular myth is true-whatever that means–so, though if there is a god it did nothing in the universe and has no relevance for my existence but boy do I believe that it used a human to die for my non-existent sins.” Give me a logic break. This isn’t that complicated. The Christian story is wrong. It has to be because inerrant scientists have said that we are just the latest example of mutation in our own tree. You do have to choose between meta-narratives. To hold both is irrational at best.
      Ken

      • peteenns

        Ken, your first sentence is utterly wrong and accounts for the remainder of your comment. The prevailing scientific assessment of human origins is NOT “based on the scientific meta-narrative.” It is based on generations of scientific investigations. Perhaps you are suggesting that they are blindly driven by their meta-narrative, but then you would need to make friends with scientists who are also Christians — outside Os apologetics organizations — so you can test your hypothesis.

        • Ken Duncan

          Peter,
          1. Everyone, and I mean everyone including me, including you, including Richard Dawkins, sees the world through their own particular pair of worldview lenses. Are you seriously asserting that it is possible to be objective and neutral? Has postmodernism not taught anything??
          2. Using an example from my geographic area, go sign up for a degree in evolutionary biology or the like at UCLA. You will be taught from day one to _interpret_ the data a specific way. Or, are you seriously asserting that there is uninterpreted data??? No way, never happened, never will happen. Scientists take a given piece of data and _must_ fit it into the meta-narrative they already have: humans are one of the results of the primordial ooze or perhaps an underwater volcano (now is that reaching or what?), or a meteor, or…. It’s not acceptable to say, “This datum does not fit the model.” You will never see that in an issue of Nature or Scientific American, even it it’s true because saying anything does not fit the evolutionary meta-narrative is heresy.
          3. I’m not friends with any Christians who are scientists who believe in the full-blown evolutionary program, Peter. As I noted, however, I have personally interacted with a glaring example of exactly what I’m talking about: Karl Giberson. He is so committed to the evolution meta-narrative that he has publicly berated Christians who are not. So when asked by me in person at a lecture, “If everything evolved, then there is no such thing as sin because humans were never innocent, it is unscientific to believe that Jesus could die for sins, and obviously the resurrection could not have happened, scientifically speaking.” His reply, “Those are a matter of faith.” To me that means that he has two compartments in his head, one, science, describes the evolutionary way that life originated, and the random way the universe itself came to be in its current state, so if you what to know how anything happened or happens, ask a scientist, not a pastor), and a compartment for “faith,” which contains any number of things that cannot exist in the first compartment because they are mutually exclusive. I choose to not fool myself that way, or be deliberately intellectually schizophrenic. I gather from things I’ve read that this is pretty much how other Christian scientists get along: believe the meta-narrative of science–everything is random and needs no stupid notion like a god to explain it–and simultaneous believe that Christian faith is true, sort of a “see no evil, hear no evil” sort of faith that can’t co-exist with the other.
          Need further convincing? I dialogued with Francis Collins on this subject. I asserted that under the scientific model of evolution, there is no need at all for God. His response was that “this would hurt the faith of many young Christians in the sciences.” In other words, I’m right. Faith in the God revealed in the Bible, who is affirmed over and over to be the Creator, done through his son Jesus (John 1:1-3; Heb 1:1-4; Col 1:15-20) is irrational if you believe that the Big Bang and random genetic mutation and natural selection explain the existence of everything in the universe. Look at how much nuancing a Christian has to do to somehow justify reliance upon the revelation of God that is contained in the Bible and at the same time, embrace the scientific meta-narrative.
          Yes, Peter, there is a scientific meta-narrative, and if you were a scientist and tried to oppose the accepted “facts” of science, you would be essentially excluded from the guild pronto. I am astounded that you don’t believe that. If this were not so, if it was not virtually a requirement drilled into the head of students of science that all life, without the benefit of a deity, and without exception, came through evolution, then why was “PIlt down Man” so rapidly accepted, no questions asked? Because when you are told that evolution is all there is, any data you see absolutely must fit into that meta-narrative.
          Perhaps you might explore on your blog the subject of epistemology, the study of how we know what we know. You might find that for the people in the philosophy department, what I’m saying is old news.

          • peteenns

            Ken, you’re free to reject the scientific consensus for whatever reason you wish, though I don’t find your reasoning above compelling or clear. I am beginning to be more interested in why this brings out such anger in you. Perhaps it’s because you feel the entire Gospel rises or falls on this issue? Many think it doesn’t, and despite your arguments here (which you seem to feel are air tight), I continue to encourage you to find knowledgable conversation parters who are patient to hear you out while you also return the favor. That can’t be done on line, unfortunately.

          • Ivar

            Looks like somebody has just been familiarised basic epistemology.
            Your repeated assertions about science betray a lack of understanding of the philosophy of science. Science takes certain metaphysical presuppositions for granted, but isn’t in a position to confirm or disconfirm metaphysical ideas like providence or such.
            You should also understand that “random genetic mutation” doesn’t mean purposeless, it means mutations that arise with no respect to any success the organism might thereby gain in its environment. It doesn’t mean that God is left out of the picture; on the contrary, evolution to the point at which we currently find ourselves seems to be quite unlikely unless God exists.
            You mention issues about worldview and that data has to be interpreted according to the lenses with which we view the world. Of course, that has no bearing on whether there is a correct interpretation of data or not. In order to interpret your comments, I had to assume conventional hermeneutics, but I’m sure you’d agree that it would be silly to claim that my interpretation is as good as any other.
            [W]e’ve been trained by the Englightenment to think that we can interact directly with external things and have absolutely accurate knowledge of them.
            I think that’s a fairly standard assumption, unless you’re a solipsist or something. It bears no particular relevance to the topic of evolution vs. creationism.

  • Abe

    Just a quick question: If Abraham or Moses are not real men who was Jesus talking to on the mountain? This has been my biggest stumbling block for the unhistorical Adam, et. al.

    • http://firstbaptistnewark.com Mark Farmer

      Abe, I had similar questions. The works of Dale Allison and Paula Fredriksen on the gospels were helpful in finding a way forward.

    • Andrew

      While the Gospels have a good deal of historical material, they are also full of theological motifs that were not meant to transmit pure history.

      • Ken Duncan

        Historical Positivist are we?

  • http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/ Russ

    Hi Pete. After becoming frustrated with evangelical answers to biblical creation I decided to write an evolutionary account of the Fall, the image of God in humanity, sin, and typologies between Adam and Christ. As you read along you’ll probably notice with me several areas that could be better addressed however my intent was to provide a reasonable evolutionary picture of God’s involvement with mankind’s present state of being. At the end of the article I link another article which then links to several more articles… all of which I think are key to this discussion. Here’s my proposal… any thots and/or probable future work together will be welcomed. Russ – “How God Created by Evolution: A Proposed Theory of Man’s Evolutionary Development” – http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2012/01/resolving-genesis-story-between.html

  • Leigh Copeland

    One of the “big questions ahead of it” concerns the other bookend to the Genesis account: how it will all end (or not). If we “”accept the overwhelming scientific consensus concerning” the lifespan of our sun and solar system or, indeed, the visible universe I don’t see how to read or interpret the promises of new creation, especially here on a restored earth. Will the death of the sun present as big a problem as the creation of Adam? “Evolution” is a term used in both discussions.

  • David

    1. Consensus does not equal fact.
    The science that is without the metaphysical, or reason without faith can’t explain how we could have an old universe that has existed only a short time. If God created Adam in one literal day, He created a mature man that would have been older than a day by examination. The same would be true of a mature garden, mature planet, mature galaxy, etc. The dating methods used by the “consensus” only measure the age of the stone to determine the age of the bone. I have yet to find one real example of life beyond a young earth. One good example would be a glacier 200,000 years old with evidence of life embeded anywhere beyond 20,000 years. As far as I know, no evidence exists for life beyond recent history, even though the measured age of rocks, stars, etc. are much older. Please direct me to some evidence and drop the consensus nonsense.

    2. Adam was a person that really existed and every human being descended from him. The Catholic Church has never waivered from this view and will never waiver regardless of how much of a consensus of Jesuits believe otherwise.

    • http://anselm-ministries.us Chuck Sigler

      Besides the books suggested by Hallvard, there is “A Biblical Case for an Old Earth,” by David Snoke, who is a physics professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a ruling elder in the PCA.

      • peteenns

        Though, old earth does note necessarily address the Adam issue, does it?

  • http://www.ja-nei.blogspot.com Hallvard N. Jorgensen

    David, I’d recommend these books in particular:

    Daniel J Fairbanks – Relics of Eden (on how our DNA is linked to e. g. Chimpanzees). To my mind, this book shows very convincingly our common ancestry with other animals.
    Kenneth Miller – Finding Darwin’s God (among other things on the question of dating the earth. Cf. also Brent Dalrymple’s “Age of the earth,” if you are more ambitious).

    Both Miller and Fairbanks are recognized as experts in their fields. There are also plenty of other good books on the evolution/creationism-controversy. The important thing is to find the best books on *each* side, and read them all. The important thing *not* to do, is to read only one side, and trust for it to give a fair estimation of the other side. (Well – of course there are more than two stances here, but you get my point).

    On the Catholic church and the first humans, I find this article quite informative: http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt93.html Bottom line is, I would think, that evolution is a thorny issue also for catholics, though not perhaps to the degree as it is for evangelicals.

    • David Ulmer

      H. Jorgensen, thanks for the link and the advice. The issue is likely going to heat up in the Catholic Church. Here is an excellent article on the topic from a Catholic perspective. http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/God/God_011.htm

      The issue comes down to truth as Pilot asked 2000 years ago, “What is truth?”.

    • Ken Duncan

      Hallvard,
      Huh? But we are being asked to trust scientists as infallible and their account leaves no place for and has no need of a divine agent. How could you possibly put that together with anything in the Bible? If I accept evolution, I will cease to be a Christian because the stories the two tell are absolutely incompatible. Or, maybe God shows up from time to time to do things. He waves his wand like a fairy godmother, and bing, fully-formed human beings magically become in his image? Yeah, right.

      Ken

  • Andrew

    What seems to perplex me is that the Adam and Eve story being ahistorical seems to only be an issue if original sin is a huge component of your Christian theology. Why else does it matter so much?

  • Ted Jammers

    Farewell, Peter Enns. Your error exceeds that of Rob Bell’s. Here is an old and great article by Kevin DeYoung from The Gospel Coalition about why holding to a historical Adam is of massive importance. May God bless your spiritual journey.

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2012/02/07/reasons-to-believe-in-a-historical-adam/

  • Dustin Reed

    Pete, I do have a quick question for you. Your initial assumption above is that you “accept the overwhelming scientific consensus concerning evolution.” I’m sure you have written on this elsewhere — if so, please direct me! — but, could you elaborate a little on why you make this assumption (other than the notion of consensus)? Thanks!

  • Wesman

    Pete, thanks for sharing. I’m curious: are you a member of ETS or were you simply invited to share about your book? I ask only because I assume from your writings that you wouldn’t fit the ETS mold.

  • http://stonesnbones.blogspot.com/ Dr. GS Hurd

    There are some rather major errors made by Mr. David Ulmer. They are both scientific and theological.

    First the science. The scientific “consensus” is on how to understand facts. These are the facts from diverse fields of research ranging from biogeography, and genetics to geology, chemistry, and astronomy. The consensus is overwhelmingly for an ancient universe, and the origin of life on earth about 3.8 billion years ago. For this understanding to be false then every fact collected in those sciences named above must be false. This creates the extreme theological dilemma I’ll address later.

    You specifically requested an example of ancient life. The exact example you requested is of course impossible. A 200,000 year old glacier will have had many progressions and recessions. The “bottom” of the glacier would be merely rock powder. Plant remains (mostly pollen) is scattered in the oldest ice masses available today such as the Greenland Dome, and several ice streams in Anarctica. An exceptionally good review of the Greenland ice sheet paleoclimate data is Alley et al, 2010. However, there are locations where there are independently determined annual events which log the existence of life well before 20,000 years. Lake Suigetsu, Japan is probably the best for the current discussion. Two references, Reimer 2012 for non-scientists, and the original study Ramsey et al, 2012 should resolve the issue. From annual sediment deposits called varves the scientists collected plant remains directly dated simply be counting the varves. Using these remains they collected radiocarbon data for the last 52.8 thousand years.

    Alley, R.B., et al., History of the Greenland Ice Sheet: Paleoclimatic insights, Quaternary Science Reviews (2010),
    doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2010.02.007

    Paula J. Reimer
    2012 “Refining the Radiocarbon Time Scale”
    Science 19 October 2012: 337-338. [DOI:10.1126/science.1228653]

    Christopher Bronk Ramsey, et al
    2012 “A Complete Terrestrial Radiocarbon Record for 11.2 to 52.8 kyr B.P.”
    Science 19 October 2012: 370-374. [DOI:10.1126/science.1226660]
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/338/6105/337/F1.large.jpg
    http://www.sciencemag.org

    • Ken Duncan

      Dr. Hurd,
      I can’t speak for others. The issue for me is not whether the earth is old or young. Though I think many gratuitous assumptions are needed for an old earth, that’s not a big issue for me. The real issue is not how old the earth is but why it exists. For the people you cited above, and pretty much any book I could randomly choose off the library shelf, the earth is the random result of the coalsecence of debris from the Big Bang. Therefore, the earth’s existence owes nothing to and requires nothing of an external agent. Don’t believe me? Ask Sam Harris, as he’s the guy with the degree in evolutionary biology (I think that’s the field). Any approach to reading biblical texts, whether Genesis 1 or John 1, Psalm 8 or 19 or Col 1:15-20, all declare that all thins were made by God, should grant that they declare that God made the universe, including the earth. However, we don’t need a god. Just ask Stephen Hawkings. The Big Bang is explicable through M Theory. Nothing else is needed. We _must_ decide which of two meta-narratives is correct. Holding both is irrational.

  • Pingback: Dr. Peter Enns on Adam and Evolution | Jesus Without Baggage

  • Dave C.

    Moses and Elijah (not Abraham) = “the Law and the Prophets”

  • http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BX3AJ8Q Ed Babinski

    The new book, Evolving Out of Eden, takes the “Adam” question to the next level, including a discussion of ideas from Enns’ own work, and Denis Lam.’s and Haught’s: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BX3AJ8Q

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ Jesus Without Baggage

    Thanks Peter for such a good post. I have followed your blog for a while, and I really enjoyed The Evolution of Adam. Yours is the best book I have read on the subject. I am now reading your book on scripture.

    Today, I recommended both The Evolution of Adam and this blog post on my blog. Thanks again.

  • Hanan

    Question: If Adam is not real, what happens to the chronology afterwards which leads to Abraham? So is Abraham not real either? If he is not real….then who is real?

    Didn’t Jesus except the Torah as the accurate word of God? Didn’t he too believe in Adam?

    • Andrew

      I can’t even recall Jesus ever discussing Adam (his reference to Genesis during the discourse on divorce?) but when he does, or any old OT story, he is using common knowledge known by his audience to make a point. I’ve never understood people claiming that because Jesus cited an OT story, he therefore believed it actually happened . . . what? If I am preaching to an audience and use a common popular allegory about say . . the 3 little pigs, does that mean I believe there was once a historical wolf who visited the home of 3 little pigs? No.

      Did Jesus except Torah? Well he didn’t see it as stagnant in time, that’s for sure, thus his several examples of directly contradicting it.

      • http://www.coffeeringstheology.wordpress.com C.M. Granger

        How do you know that Jesus refers to common OT knowledge simply to “make a point” and that he didn’t believe what he refers to actually took place? You cannot derive that position from the text.

        Jesus never contradicted the Torah, he corrected the incorrect teachings that had gained prominence among the Rabbis.

        • peteenns

          C.M., it seems pretty clear that at some key points, Jesus challenged the system found in the OT, e.g., dietary laws, sabbath, contact with impurity, killing enemies in your land. Jesus didn’t simply correct the Pharisees to bring them back to the mosaic law or even to to get at what the mosaic law was “really” after. He transcended the system while at the same time not throwing it under the bus. This is one area where it is important to remember that there is continuity and discontinuity between what Jesus said and what the OT said.

          • http://www.coffeeringstheology.wordpress.com C.M. Granger

            Pete,

            Jesus challenged the misapplication of the OT. What was the mosaic law “really” after if it’s not found in the teachings of Christ?

        • Andrew

          CM, you said “you cannot derive that position from the text” . . thank you, you made my point for me. I’m not claiming that Jesus definitely did or did not believe in a historical Adam . . there’s no way for us to know that. But one cannot claim that if he cited an OT story/passage as part of a larger teaching, he must have assumed that event to have actually taken place in history. People use and cite commonly held community belief/paradigms for the purpose of illustrating examples that will make sense to that community all the time; it does not infer that the person using those illustrative examples believes they “happened historically,” that is besides the point. Does a historical Adam or Abraham have any effect on Jesus’s ministry regarding the Kingdom of God? I certainly don’t think so.

          • http://www.coffeeringstheology.wordpress.com C.M. Granger

            It absolutely does. If you were just sharing your opinion, that’s fine. I thought you were asserting your position, which you admit cannot be derived from the text. The position that Jesus believed what he said actually occured is clear in the Scriptures. Ask Dr. Enns.

      • Hanan

        What about my first question? Either to you or Peter?

        • http://www.coffeeringstheology.wordpress.com C.M. Granger

          Hanan, excellent questions

          Jesus did believe in Adam as a historical figure. In order to make some sense of this and deny a historical Adam, we are forced to conclude that Jesus as a 1st century Jew believed Jewish myths about origins. Therefore, Jesus was incorrect to believe in a historical Adam. We then must redefine what it means to be “incorrect” and assert that this is a result of the “irreverant” doctrine of the Incarnation, and he wasn’t really incorrect as a Jewish man living in a pre-scientific, pre-Enlightenment age. The problem with modern thinking in the West is a presumed foundationalism in which we expect things from the text that neither God or the original writers intended. We are asking more from the Bible than was meant to be.

          Therefore, we can not conclude that the writers of the chronologies in Scripture even really meant for those chronologies to be taken as historical in any modern sense of the term. So, it doesn’t really matter what denying the historicity of people in the Bible implies as it’s irrelevant.

          That’s the position, as I understand it. It’s not my position though.

          I wonder if Jesus believes in a historical Adam now?

          • Andrew

            You said “It absolutely does.”

            His ministry on the Kingdom of God is dependent on a historical Adam how??

            “The position that Jesus believed what he said actually occured is clear in the Scriptures.” What? Again, you have no basis to claim that if Jesus cites Genesis in his dictation on divorce, or says “that town on that day will be worse off than Sodom” that he believes in a historical Adam/Eve or that Sodom and Gomorrah was an actual historical event. And their historicity has NOTHING to do with the teachings as a whole; he certainly believed in what he preached, but the whole point was the larger meaning of the teaching, not whether something occurred in history or not.

          • http://www.coffeeringstheology.wordpress.com C.M. Granger

            The Christian faith is a historical faith. It is based upon actual events that took place in time and space. If a covenant was not made with Abraham, then a covenant was not made with Israel. Jesus’ preaching on the Kingdom of God is within this covenant context. Jesus is not referring to OT events that he didn’t believe really happened.

            If historical events such as the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection never actually took place, then your faith is in vain and you are still in your sin. For some reason, you would assert that these events took place, but little else. Given your position, however, you cannot really assert anything based on the text. The best you have is that Jesus probably existed, but everyone else in Scripture is a “maybe” at best. It’s fanciful and arbitrary.

          • peteenns

            CM, your comment here is a common one among apologists, but one that may claim too much. By its logic you have swept away all historical problems in the OT. Is this what intend to say, or are you limiting your comment to Abraham? Also, how much of the Abraham is historical? Every last bit of it? And what do you mean by “historical”? These are perennial and legitimate questions.

          • http://www.coffeeringstheology.wordpress.com C.M. Granger

            Hi Pete,
            What historical problems in the OT do you have in mind? By “historical” I mean events that took place in the past. All of the scriptural accounts of Abraham are historical except where the context may dictate otherwise.
            Is there another definition of “historical”? Could you explain how the life and teachings of Jesus are historical, but almost everyone else a myth or metaphor?

            You stated during your presentation that you had to reject inerrancy because you found yourself having too much explaining to do in order to defend it. I find there is a lot of explaining involved with theology. The Trinity and the Incarnation, for example, take a lot of explaining. However, I don’t see that your current position with regard to Scripture takes any less explaining than inerrancy. In fact, I think it takes much more.

      • Ken Duncan

        Andrew,
        Jesus not only accepted the Torah but affirmed it over and over. The only place in the canonical Gospels in which Jesus overrides the Torah is in Mark 7, in which Mark says, Jesus declared all foods clean. If you look at Acts 10-15 and Galatians 2, however, it is evident that Jesus’ disciples did not perceive this situation.
        Furthermore, I would direct you to John 8. In this chapter, Jesus does not talk about simply a common story. He says, explicitly, as part of proving an important point, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” (as Exod 3:14 is clearly echoed in John 8:58). If Abraham did not exist, then Jesus is lying, and his argument is totally invalid.
        You misunderstand the nature of history and Jesus’ use of the Old Testament. How much research have you done on that? It was the focus of my doctoral dissertation. “Common stories,” as you call them, could be useful in illustrating a point, but if the argument depends upon the actual event referenced, that changes everything.
        Now, if none of those Old Testament “common stories” represents (to the extent that historical accounts can represent events), then the God of the Old Testament is nothing but an element of some common, fictitious stories. Is that what you want to assert? No Israel, no wilderness wandering, no creation, no David? Maybe then, based upon your same logic, Jesus’ existence, never mind his death and resurrection, are nothing but common stories. You cannot (event though all the people I have ever heard or read affirm evolution and Christian faith are GUILTY of this massive logic failure) have your cake and eat it too.

        • peteenns

          Now you have my attention, Ken. Where did you do your doctoral dissertation and under whom? And do you think “Jesus is lying” is the only alternative to what Andrew is saying?

  • http://www.coffeeringstheology.wordpress.com C.M. Granger

    Hi Pete,

    I was at your presentation Saturday. Near the end of the Q&A someone asked you about Jesus clearly asserting the historicity of Adam, to which you replied that Jesus was a 1st century Jew who believed the myths of his day as other Jews did. In other words, he was mistaken. Could you clarify something for me? If Jesus was mistaken with regard to this matter due to his humanity, how can we discern what he said was correct with regard to his divinity?

    Also, can we assert dogmatically any doctrine of Scripture based on the text? If so, why?

    Thanks

    • peteenns

      Hi C.M.
      I don’t accept two interconnected premises you are making: (1) by accepting conventional understandings of origins, Jesus was “mistaken,” and (2) a sign of Christ’s divinity is his knowledge that transcends the conventions. In my opinion, these are common assumptions and they head the discussion down the wrong road at the outset.

      • http://www.coffeeringstheology.wordpress.com C.M. Granger

        Hi Pete,

        If Jesus accepted conventional understandings of origins, as you put it, and those events never actually happened, how was he not mistaken? If words have any meaning, Jesus was incorrect. He believed something that wasn’t true. If you thought the moon was made of green cheese because that is what practically everyone in your day and age believed, you would still be wrong about it.

        Regarding your second point, must not Christ’s knowledge “transcend” the conventions in order for him to know himself to be the Son of God? How does he understand heavenly things, but not earthly things? (i.e. that He is the Son of God, but not that Adam and Eve were ahistorical as per your view)

        As I asked in my previous comments, can we assert any doctrine of Scripture dogmaticlly based on the text? If we can, why?

      • Ken Duncan

        Pete,
        How do you determine when Jesus uses some “myth” (how do you know that they thought these were myths????) or makes other statements whose referents are fictional in your mind and statements that refer to actual, “true” things? This requires a rather, um, convenient hermeneutic, does it not?

        • peteenns

          How do you know that Jesus takes all the Old Testament literally? How do you know that a mark Jesus’ divinity is absolute and accurate knowledge of the past? What room does your Christology have for Jesus as a fully 1st century human, who shared its cultural assumptions and limitations? Howe comfortable are you, truly, with the incarnation, what C. S. Lewis calls and “irreverent doctrine”?

          I feel you need to demonstrate your position. What I see, rather, is your assumption that how you see this complex matter is the default position against which others must be judged. You won’t get a free pass here, Ken. If you choose to answer, I would ask that you try to steer clear of charged language. Stay descriptive and please avoid the tacit sub-text that those who agree are either incompetent or in a state of spiritual rebellion.

  • Pingback: Peter Enns, Adam, and an Overcommitment to Science | Every Thought Captive

  • rvs

    A parliament of owls. An army of ants. A murder of crows. A mob of kangaroos. A romp of otter. An adam of men?

  • Vickie

    I meant to say Coakley’s work on the role of cooperation, altruism, and sacrifice in evolution.

  • Hanan

    I will repeat my question:

    If Adam is not real, what happens to the chronology afterwards which leads to Abraham? So is Abraham not real either? If he is not real….then who is real?

    • Andrew

      Hanan, you can do your own research on the historicity of the Bible stories; there are many many sources on that topic, although if you actually want accuracy I would avoid blatant apologetic conservative scholars who have their conclusions ready before even conducting any research.

      Practically all historians believe Jesus was a real historical person as the evidence towards that is very strong. Abraham on the other hand is highly likely to be a theological construct as a allegorical “starting point” for the Jews to be a people “apart” from their neighbors both ethnically and culturally. Moses and David are likely in-between; they are probably based on real historical characters but the OT stories add a lot that is not historical. That is the type of book the Bible is; it’s not a straight history book.

      • Hanan

        >Abraham on the other hand is highly likely to be a theological construct as a allegorical “starting point”

        An allegorical starting point? Interesting. Is this what Peter would say? Because, if it is, then that really throws a monkey wrench into the whole ideal of an actual covenant that Christians believe no? I mean, the father of the covenant is Abraham. If that father is just an allegory, then maybe the whole covenant is just allegory. Why trust in any covenant at all? Keep in mind, that I am most definite that Jesus believed in Abraham being that father of the covenant. Jesus is a continuation (or culmination) of that actual covenant.

        • peteenns

          Hanan, you are not doing Andrew’s comment justice. Even fairly conservative evangelical scholars are known to have recognized the historical problems with the patriarchal narratives. You do not have to agree, but if the answer were as easy as you make it, there would be no problem. Also, something that has to be true for ones theology does not mean it is true.

          • Hanan

            The truth is, I really don’t care what Conservative evangelicals say. I’m trying to get come at this through some common sense. You seem to be ripping apart the foundation, the walls, the electrical wiring along with all the plumbing yet still consider it a house…..if you get my drift.

            Andrew’s comment makes total sense….from an academic point of view. So why not take it to the logical conclusion then? If the foundational covenant is based on allegory, then take it all the way.

            To tell you the truth, I am a bit dismayed at your comments. And I’m Jewish. You claim CM is just spewing apologetics when he says something like this:

            “The Christian faith is a historical faith. It is based upon actual events that took place in time and space. If a covenant was not made with Abraham, then a covenant was not made with Israel. Jesus’ preaching on the Kingdom of God is within this covenant context.”

            That comment by CM is 100% correct. You can’t rip out the foundation and then claim YOUR covenant is theologically and historically true. At what point does your fancy foot working, trying to reconcile your faith with academic scholarship become apologetics?

      • http://www.coffeeringstheology.wordpress.com C.M. Granger

        So, the Bible is a story book that makes several theological points…..then when Jesus comes on the scene it records some things that probably happened (can’t be too sure about that though). And somehow God is revealed in Jesus through the testimony of a book that is sort of special when compared to other kinds of books.

      • Ken Duncan

        And Hanan, I would avoid blatant propaganda by critical scholars who already know the answer before they look at the facts, like Robert Morgan who denies that Jesus ever existed, van Seeters who knew there was no Abraham before he researched, and Thompson and Lemche who assert that nothing in the Old Testament ever happened–it was all invented after 300 B.C. Also, do not believe people who paint with broad brushes and say that any conservative view must be wrong.

    • http://www.coffeeringstheology.wordpress.com C.M. Granger

      Hi Hanan,

      I addressed your question above, after the second time you posed it. You have made some excellent points in your comments as well…

  • http://www.waterfromthewells.com Caroline

    “Already among their ranks is a critical mass of thoughtful, yet quiet, people who are eager to find ways to move beyond the current impasse.”

    Praise be to God. Until recently, I honestly did not know they existed. As a practical, and somewhat selfish matter, do you have thoughts on where (especially online) there might be classes that those of us in this critical mass can go to learn more? Based on my limited knowledge, most approaches to scripture in an academic context seem much more liberal or much more conservative than what you are talking about here, which is where I think I am going to find myself ending up. Thanks for taking the time if you are able to spare it!

  • Jim

    I’m wondering about C.M.’s point; “How does he understand heavenly things, but not earthly things?” There appears to be some thing’s that Jesus admitted he didn’t know, like when he was coming back. This would seem like an important question. So in his life as a human 2K years ago maybe he didn’t know other things like quantum mechanics, evolution or if Adam and Abraham were real either. He probably knew what he was taught in Synagogues etc. Also, the NT was written in Greek and not in Aramaic so who really knows his precise words anyway. Besides I’m not sure what perfect knowledge about history and science really has to do with reconciling humanity.

    • Ken Duncan

      Well Jim, if the people didn’t exist, the events didn’t happen. If the events didn’t happen, there is no reconciliation. Judaism and Christiantiy (and to some small extent Islam) are distinctive in being rooted in historical events. You cannot toss out some as myth/allegory/fictional and then simply claim that others are true. Abraham, Moses, David, Hezekiah, and Jesus are all part of hte same story. If the first half is pretend, there’s like zero reason to think that the rest, the part that you like, is somehow historical. You cannot have it both ways, if you choose to be intellectually honest.

  • Leo

    Ernest Lucas pointed out that the ages of the patriarchs are symbolic, but not sure in what way. The idea of the Genesis 5 patriarchs living into their 800′s and 900′s is a bit odd to me. It would almost seem cruel to live that long if they were in fact real. The Genesis 11 patriarchs lived anywhere from 200 to 500. Why the vast difference? Lucas pointed out that Genesis 1-11 is prologue. I do wonder at what point does the narrative become “historical.” In other words, which, if any of these characters were real, actual and historical?

    • Andrew

      There is no point in the Bible where the text becomes straight history . . all of the writings are interspersed with theological motifs/narratives that don’t go back to the modernist notion of “history.” As would be expected, you usually get more valid historical material the closer it was written to the actual events, although this isn’t always the case.
      As to how to discern what is historical and what is more metaphorical/allegorical/theological construct, well there are many different sources one can go to (that go back hundreds of years), but I would argue that it takes time to get a more accurate picture as one should review a wide variety of sources, and even among the most top rate of biblical scholars you have some notable disagreements about what really goes back to history. According to how one’s faith is structured the process can either be good deal of fun or extremely frightening/foreboding.

      • http://www.coffeeringstheology.wordpress.com C.M. Granger

        What cannot be rejected in Scripture and why?

        • Andrew

          Sorry, but you’re trying to put things into nice pockets of “true and not true” and then have them corresponding with “worthy of faith, unworthy of faith” . . . . which goes against the whole definition of faith.
          What in the Bible should be embraced and what should be discarded? You’re going to have to decide that for yourself through your own research and reflection; it’s not for anyone to dictate to you.

          • http://www.coffeeringstheology.wordpress.com C.M. Granger

            No. I’m asking a straightforward question. Your position does not allow you to assert any doctrine of Scripture because you have no basis for doing so. Do you disagree?

          • peteenns

            C.M., your questions are straightforward from your point of view. There is a “data set” so to speak that Andrew and others knowledgable in biblical studies need to take into account. If I interpret Andrew correctly, I think he is trying to keep that before you in your deliberations.

          • http://www.coffeeringstheology.wordpress.com C.M. Granger

            In other words, who can say? To each, his own…..

      • Leo

        How about Abraham? Is the father of the faith merely a fictional construct? Moses? David? And, don’t theological motifs fall within history without resorting to using works of complete fiction?

        • http://www.coffeeringstheology.wordpress.com C.M. Granger

          Hey, it’s all fiction. In fact, none of us really exist. We’re abstractions discussing abstractions, a myth talking about myths.

          • Ken Duncan

            Andrew,
            You are making three really large mistakes.
            1. Accepting a modernist/Positivist notion of history. There is absolutely, positively no work of history that is in any way neutral or objective. It does not exist anywhere, at any time. To think otherwise simply means your notion of history is wrong. Von Ranke was wrong, modernist biblical scholars are wrong, and you are wrong on this issue. No one, not historians, not scientists, not anyone can speak without it being biased and influenced heavily by the person’s social location.
            2. As a logical correlate of #1, which is an unassailable fact, is the fact that everyone has agendas when they write history. Having theological or political or social or ethical motives when writing an historical account does not make that account invalid or incorrect. That is your second huge error here. Your very statements should be rejected on the basis of your obvious worldview biases, if I follow the logic you have. Your logic is theological ideas = fictional history. You have not proven that and the reality is that you can’t and neither can anyone else. I would posit that biblical scholars in the last two centuries who have claimed that a theological motive equals inventing events and dialogues are simply bigoted and have a completely broken understanding of what it means to write history.
            History has two senses: a) what happened in the past; and b) what people, making deliberate decisions about to say and not say, what to include and not include, how to say and not say things, and put that all together into a more or less coherent narrative. See Fortna if you don’t accept that. Your understanding of historiography, ancient and modern, is just wrong. Try Collingwood on writing history.
            3. You are copping out here. You’re denying essentially all the events in the Bible because none of them are without theological significance but you seem unwilling to take your own medicine and declare that the whole Bible is fantasy. I think that Peter needs to do the same thing. This is, as another poster pointed out, the logical conclusion of your position. On the other hand, there is no good reason for your skepticism. There are scholars who have done the hard work in ANE studies who would disagree with you.

  • Jim

    Does it really matter if Abraham really existed or not? I’ve always wondered why it was called Christianity and not Abrahamity. I suppose I should develop a high Abrahamology now.

    • Hanan

      It matters because as C.M says:

      “The Christian faith is a historical faith. It is based upon actual events that took place in time and space. If a covenant was not made with Abraham, then a covenant was not made with Israel. Jesus’ preaching on the Kingdom of God is within this covenant context.”

      You can’t have one without the other.

      • peteenns

        I meant to make this comment a few days ago when CM first made this comment quoted here. Again, apart from the fact that this ignores very serious historical challenges that some of us do not have the luxury to ignore, the logic of this argument, though common, is not convincing. Just because Abraham needs to be a historical figure in order for a God to have made a covenant with Israel (this is dubious, but allowed for sake of discussion), that still does not mean Abraham is historical. It only indicates that you need him to be. The fact that a non-historical Abraham creates theological problems for you is not an argument for Abraham’s historicity.

        And someone remind me how this rabbit-trailed to be about Abraham? Was it the “if Adam is not a person, than what is to prevent us from deeming none of the Bible as historical” argument? Well, the same goes for Adam: needing him to be a historical person for theological reasons does not make him so. It is simply a statement of what would happen theologically for you if he is not. I have never seen those argue along this line rest comfortably when others apply the same logic to views they are not committed to. It is no different in principle from saying: “If Mohammad is not Allah’s chosen prophet than our Muslim faith is for naught.”

        An argument for historicity has to be undertaken for reasons other than (perceived) theological need.

        • Leo

          It wouldn’t be a problem for me IF Abraham or Moses were fictional characters. I’m playing devil’s advocate myself and trying to flesh out the view that people of antiquity told myths, etc to convey truth. Is there good evidence (or not) that Moses was an actual, historical man? Abraham? David, etc. Certainly the men listed in Jesus’ genealogy were real, historical men and could be verified by people of that day and this would include David, etc. My faith doesn’t rest on an affirmative answer, but it is an interesting question nonetheless.

          • Ken Duncan

            Let’s talk about telling myth as truth. There is not a single ANE text that says, “This story, (e.g., the Sumerian creation story) is all fictional but that doesn’t matter because the story is used to communicate truths.” None. Nada. Zip. So it is inappropriate at the very least to claim otherwise. We should not construct tidy little theories to suit our own theology/worldview. Furthermore, can a fictional story actually teach truth? How would we recognize that truth? More importantly, why should we accept the truth claim? After all, there’s nothing behind it of substance. This is why Judaism and Christianity are completely different in nature from, say, Confucinism. Confucius does not need to have existed in order for “his” teacing to be true. Making a covenant with Abraham, leading Israel out of Egypt, conquering (more or less) the Promised Land, being conceived in a virgin, rising from the dead are all parts of the Christian story. If you remove all of those that you dislike (and I, having read on the subject of the Patriarchs myself don’t agree that they contain historical problems as such), there is, as someone else noted, nothing really left of the Christian faith except a Jesus who is 100% a matter of faith because there’s no history behind him, only myth. The big story of God’s interaction with the world he created (however that was done) is like a string of Dominos. If you knock one down, they all go.

        • http://www.coffeeringstheology.wordpress.com C.M. Granger

          Hi Pete,
          Interesting. Do you not believe in the Resurrection primarily on the basis of (perceived) theological need? If not, upon what basis do you believe it?

          • peteenns

            C.M. I appreciate that you feel your recurring questions get to the heart of the matter, but they don’t. I also have been round and round on this issue with other apologists, and I recognize the debate tactic of never answering questions but always asking them. Until you can demonstrate some understanding and sense, however small, of the legitimacy of the genuine and almost universally recognized historical problems of the topics we are addressing, I am not sure it is worth while to continue this dance of retreat to allegedly obvious and non-negotiable theological prolegomena.

        • http://www.coffeeringstheology.wordpress.com C.M. Granger

          Pete,

          I don’t see any questions that I haven’t answered, what questions are you referring to? The only ones left unanswered are those I’ve asked which you and others haven’t addressed. I can’t seem to even get a basic acknowledgment of necessary doctrine for the Christian faith from you or proponents of your position. Thanks for the interaction.

        • Hanan

          >The fact that a non-historical Abraham creates theological problems for you is not an argument for Abraham’s historicity.

          Then might as well say :

          The fact that a non-historical Jesus creates theological problems for you is not an argument for Jesus’s historicity.

          >Abraham needs to be a historical figure in order for a God to have made a covenant with Israel

          Then who was the covenant made with? Nobody you say? Then why trust anything Jesus said? Jesus is connected to that initial covenant. You can’t separate the two. I know you are trying. I know you are using some very fancy mental gymnastics to do this, to spare some level of Christianity for yourself, but it is just intellectually dishonest.

          Now, you think there wasn’t an Abraham at all? Fine. I’m hip. But at least follow the logical conclusion. Don’t tell me that history in this particular issue doesn’t affect the REST of the theology that is founded on a historical covenant. The onus is on YOU to somehow show how the theology (which is founded on a historical covenant with Israel) is not affected by the historical record. You can say the Israelites were wrong in their belief if you want. You can say there never was any actual forefather that passed down a covenant to them. Fine. But at least continue. Why are you stopping?

          >“If Mohammad is not Allah’s chosen prophet than our Muslim faith is for naught.”

          Sigh. Sure, you might FEEL the muslim faith has merit, but then it is based on that, and that only, just an emotion that is bereft of any truth to it.

          • Hanan

            >Until you can demonstrate some understanding and sense, however small, of the legitimacy of the genuine and almost universally recognized historical problems of the topics we are addressing, I am not sure it is worth while to continue this dance of retreat to allegedly obvious and non-negotiable theological prolegomena.

            Sigh. Peter, of course he (and I) understand the historical problem. What we don’t understand is how you keep ignoring the logical conclusion to the theology. If you want to dump Abraham from the historical be my guest but don’t make up that this is JUST a theological problem in of itself and that it doesn’t affect Christianity. If all you are seeking is theology minus any historical context and truth then just dump the historical validity of Jesus and ANY idea of covenant. If you imply that Abraham is just some myth of the Hebrews then the covenant is just a myth as well. Which means……. do you get it now?

          • peteenns

            Though done with an exacerbated sigh, I am glad you acknowledge the historical problems with Abraham. But judging from how the conversation has gone, I am skeptical. So, can you comment on what you see as historical problems in the Abraham story?

  • Pingback: Pete Enns: The scientific consensus is not something to “have faith in” | internetmonk.com

  • Jim

    Sorry Peter for previously contributing to the rabbit trail leading away from Adam to Abraham. Hey, both names started with an “A” so how was I to know? :)

    Maybe I’ve consumed one too many paint chips in the past but the confusion for me is the implication by some that if one thinks that if Abraham didn’t exist then Jesus didn’t either. Huh? I think most historians agree that Jesus really existed and wasn’t a myth (summarized well in Ehrman’s DJE). When you get to Jesus’ genealogy however there is some confusion between the two accounts possibly for theological reasons.

    In any case I really liked your post as it presents a fresh look at foundations. Just my opinion, but to me it seems that the apologetic approach yields the same line over and over again.

    • Ken Duncan

      Pete,
      I’m still waiting for you to offer a defense of choosing to believe some things about Jesus while dismissing the foundation of them. If Adam didn’t exist, there was never a Fall. Period. If there was never a Fall, then we don’t need a savior. If we don’t need a savior, then Jesus’ existence is no more significant than that of any Jew who was crucified by the Romans. Furthermore, I’d argue that in fact there is not that much more evidence that Jesus existed then that Abraham existed. You, I, and everyone else knows about both of these figures because others reported on their existence and activities. You’ve made Abraham, but not Jesus, a matter of how many scholars affirm or deny something. That’s not a valid way of establishing reality. Look at the overwhelming number of Old Testament scholars who adopted and who even to this day hold to Welhausen’s theories in spite of overwhelming evidence that religions do not evolve and that Welhausen was heavily influenced by his anti-semitism. People with Ph.D.s who ought to know better still teach the whole JEDP construct as though no one had said anything about the huge problems with it. So much for the value of scholarly consensus.
      Now, Pete, can you give me a reason that I should believe in Jesus as a crucified and resurrected savior if the entire foundation of his story is myth believed by Jesus and others too stupid to know the difference between fiction and fact?

      • peteenns

        Ken, you will likely have to wait a bit longer. I have read all of your (many, long, and repetitive) comments here, and it strikes me that you are not so much in give and take mode as you are a debater demanding answers to what you feel are crucial and inescapably logical questions, and a failure to answer them to your satisfaction results in quick slide down the slippery slope. They are neither. They are certainly on the table, and I wrestle with them myself, but the discussion does not hinge on answering them as a first line of inquiry. I realize you do not see it that way, but that is the very problem I and others have been trying to help you to see.

        As for answering questions, I posed one to you a while back, but you left the thread (and now have returned). You say you have a PhD and I am wondering in what field, where, and under whom. I searched online to find out more about you, but unless you are an Australian photographer, I can’t find you (perhaps Ken Duncan is not your real name). I ask because the issues you are bringing to the table and the “correct” answers that lie beneath the surface sound to me that you have had some training in fundamentalist apologetics, but certainly not doctoral work in biblical studies. Am I correct? You also tend to pitch your tent in philosophical or theological prolegomena, insisting that the problem and answers are all to be found in these domains. This also suggests an apologetics background where a superficial treatment of complex historical issues is deemed sufficient for making one’s case (e.g., your stock fundamentalist assessment of Wellhausen and his legacy, your weak grasp of the nature of ANE myth, etc.).

        In any event, rest assured that your concerns have been heard, and there is probably no need to keep repeating them. If you are under the impression that your immediate concerns must be addressed as stated and you will not rest until you have won a debate, you will be dissatisfied here.

  • Hanan

    >So, can you comment on what you see as historical problems in the Abraham story?

    1) I didn’t say there was a problem. Or let’s say, I understand what some scholars see as a problem and therefore deduce that an Abraham never existed. I never said I agree with the conclusion, but I understand the complaint.
    2) You are carrying the conversation off on a different tangent. It’s not about what the historical problems are. It’s about you somehow not seeing logical problems in removing a foundation aspect of the story and still think your theology can stand. You actually think this is JUST a theological issue.

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  • Thomas

    It’s pretty simple, really. Either we hold the Bible as authoritative on all things to which it speaks, or we hold to modern scientists philosophical presuppositions as authoritative. There are many excellent geologists and hydrologists who do not hold to an evolutionary old earth model. It would behoove us to read some of the, namely Morris, or Whitcomb, or Hamm. Men are not inerrant, and let me remind you that Pastuer proved that spontaneous generation was false conclusively. Omne vivum ex vivo.

  • Thomas

    It’s pretty simple, really. Either we hold the Bible as authoritative on all things to which it speaks, or we hold to modern scientists philosophical presuppositions as authoritative. There are many excellent geologists and hydrologists who do not hold to an evolutionary old earth model. It would behoove us to read some of the, namely Morris, or Whitcomb, or Hamm. Men are not inerrant, and let me remind you that Pastuer proved that spontaneous generation was false conclusively. Omne vivum ex vivo. He did this before Darwin wrote his infamous book, his theory being based in the recently refuted idea that life can spring from non life. How do modern scientists deal with this problem? Simple, add a few billion years and anything is possible. Seems to me that the supernatural explanation of a simple reading of the bible, the historical hermeneutic approach, is a lot more plausible.


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