Evolving Evangelicalism (part 9): Adam and Eve’s Story is a Parable About Us All?

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The following series is based on my senior paper for Seminary. You may remember a video where I invited people to contribute their stories to help make my case. For the next couple weeks, I’ve decided to share my findings with you all. There will be a “thesis/problem” section, a “biblical theology” section, and an “application” section. I hope you will read along and share this with others! You can read the rest of the series here.

Option 2: Adam and Eve as Parable

Timothy Keller believes that space exists for differing opinions on the historicity of Adam and Eve. He states: “One of my favorite Christian writers (that’s putting it mildly), C.S. Lewis, did not believe in a literal Adam and Eve, and I do not question the reality or soundness of his personal faith.”[1]

Another option, aside from the historical perspective, understands Adam’s story as a parable. Just as Jesus used parables to describe deeper truths about God’s kingdom, so also this perspective holds that Genesis 2-3 are essentially parabolic in character. If someone had a camcorder when the two creation accounts and the “fall” took place, they would not have been recorded exactly as we read them in Genesis.Rather, the reality that God created and humanity rebelled is what the parables illustrate. This is why it is possible to have two different creation stories presented complementarily in chapters 1 and 2. As John Goldingay states: “If you take them as would-be literal historical accounts, you have your work cut out to reconcile them, but this is unnecessary if they are historical parables.”[2]

In light of this, it is important to highlight an interpretive principle at work here: biblical accommodation. Denis Lamoureux states, “in order to reveal spiritual truths as effectively as possible to ancient people, the Holy Spirit employed their understanding of nature…God came down to their level and used the science-of-the-day.”[3] The science of the day taught that humans always gave birth to more humans; therefore, there must be an original human couple as the source of all. In this case, the Holy Spirit accommodated to this idea so the ancient Jews would understand God as their Creator. “Adam is simply an ancient vessel that delivers eternal truths about our spiritual condition.”[4] Adam and Eve are therefore not presented as historically real people, but as parabolic actors on an all too familiar stage of rebellious self-glorification.[5] Goldingay summarizes:

I am told there are readers of Genesis who argue like this. If evolution is true, there was no Adam and Eve. If there was no Adam and Eve, there was no fall. If there was no fall, we didn’t need Jesus to save us. But this argument is back to front. In reality, we know we needed Jesus to save us. We recognize the way Genesis describes our predicament as human beings. We know we have not realized our vocation to take the world to its destiny and serve the earth… We know there is something wrong with our relationship with God. We know we die… The question Genesis handles is, was all that a series of problems built into humanity when it came into existence? And its answer is that this is not so… There was a point when humanity had to choose whether it wanted to go God’s way, and it chose not to. The Adam and Eve story gives us a parabolic account of that… God brought the first human beings into existence with their vocation and they turned away from it.[6]

Paul seems to think that Adam and Eve were historical figures, so does it not follow that we should as well? The answer to this could be the simple reality that Paul reflects the common scientific worldview of his day.[7] Some might respond, if we are not descended from a literal Adam, then how do Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 fit, where Adam is compared to Christ? Jesus brought life to all and Adam brought death to all. To this question Goldingay points out: “But everyone is not physically descended from Christ, so the parallel would not require all humanity to be descended from one original pair.”[8] In other words, if we are not all physically Christ’s descendants, but are still saved by his obedience, it does not follow that all humanity must come from Adam’s biological lineage.

[1]. Keller, Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, 7.

[2]. Goldingay, Genesis for Everyone: Part 1, 29.

[3]. Denis O. Lamoureux, I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2009), 44-45.

[4]. Ibid., 80.

[5]. Peter Enns and Jeff Schloss, “How Does the Fall fit into Evolutionary History? Were Adam and Eve Historical Figures?,” Biologos Foundation, http://biologos.org/questions/evolution-and-the-fall/ (accessed February 16, 2012).

[6]. Goldingay, Genesis for Everyone: Part 1, 62-63.

[7]. Lamoureux, I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution, 143-48.

[8]. Goldingay, Genesis for Everyone: Part 1, 58.

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  • While I think I would like to see the Adam and Eve story as parabolic in nature, one of my hurdles I would need to jump over is the lineages found in the Genesis account, tracing the family of Abraham or Moses or whoever back to Adam. The assumption of the writer(s) is that Adam was a literal human being, or so it seems. I don’t believe in biblical inerrancy, but this seems like too much of a contradiction. What are your thoughts, Kurt?

    •  @b77d10feb9f98811fbc8a8da930ea502:disqus … that was a huge concern of mine but no longer is. I think in Evolution of Adam, that Enns deals with this in a helpful way. I’d check that resource out. Also, I will have a list of resources that deal with some of these issues. I’d say that in the ancient world, geneologies didn’t function like they do today. They pointed back to a shared history / story / identity… so linking back to Adam makes theological sense even if it isn’t literally historical. From this perspective, it can be seen as a rhetorical move. I know that is a brief answer to a complex question… on the go. But wanted to acknowledge that this is a legit thing to ponder… but there are answers if you look for them!

  • As I recently suggested  (“The Apostle Paul did not Believe in the Historical Adam” –
    http://blog.joelmhoffman.com/2012/05/10/the-apostle-paul-did-not-believe-in-the-historical-adam/) I think it’s a mistake to say that Paul thinks that Adam and Eve were historical figures.  The whole notion of “historical” is a modern one, so Paul didn’t think that Adam and Eve were historical or non-historical.

  • Both chapters one and two are historical factual
    accounts.  If the world would stop listening to “creationist
    clowns”( that don’t understand the Genesis text), and pay attention to the
    “Observations of Moses”, the world would learn that those two chapters
     do not describe any “creation
    account”.  They are two different time periods which occurred after
    Creation Week.  The male and female in
    chapter one are not Adam & Eve, but an earlier advent of mankind.

    Herman Cummings

    •  @yahoo-KVIEGHCS6K3KTAPGI4PWEJETVE:disqus … based on your comment I invite you to read the 8 posts prior to this one.

  • One of the biggest objections that traditional Evangelicals will raise against this concept is that their whole notion of original sin is predicated upon a common biological ancestor–Adam–and hereditary transmission of his fallen nature. Of course this heredity argument is loaded with inconsistencies, fallacies, and illogical leaps, but it’s still a massive stumbling block for many.

    • Christianity without original sin can be more about morality and living the moral life Jesus taught in the sermon on the mount etc. rather than this absurd theory in Romans 5 that “Adam sinned and damned us; Jesus obeyed and saved us.  We’re not involved at all; neither does own personal sin damn us, nor does our personal obedience have anything to do with our salvation; its all on Adam and Christ.”  That absurd religion, which has sucked all the morality out of society (its why gay marriage is growing like weeds) can finally be given the death blow.  I say embrace evolution; kill off Calvinism; make Christianity MORAL again, and don’t let Augustine hit you in the butt on the way out of the Whore of Babylon.

      • I sympathize with your frustration, Rey, but one doesn’t have to dump quite as much as you suggest, to recognize that original sin as taught by Calvin and by today’s Evangelicals is wrong.  And actually, I submit you’re wrong about Paul, blaming him for the foolishness of those who have constructed an elaborate “Pauline Theology” the apostle himself would not recognize.

        The passage to which you refer has Paul playing the rabbi to make a rabbinical argument *against* those Jewish Christians who were trying to make Jews out of all the Romans.  For modern-day Gentiles to drag the  Jewish sin-doctrines back in is actually to fly in the face of Paul’s very attempts to open faith to Gentiles on the basis of Jesus having fulfilled–and therefore rendered unnecessary–the details of Jewish law.

  • “Paul seems to think that Adam and Eve were historical figures, so does it not follow that we should as well?”

    Paul also says women should not be allowed to speak in church because (wait for it) Adam was formed first and then Eve.  That is a totally irrelevant argument!  Its absurd!  So clearly, Paul is NOT always right.  In fact, every time he mentions Adam he is dead wrong.  That story warped his brain.

  • Maybe, a gazillion years ago the planet Venus was having troubles and the people decided that they were going to save one of their children.  And they put a child in a little spaceship and then sent HER to earth.  And when she got there, her DNA changed the Moron Demon Planet of the Apeshits, to a white Dna socieity of supercharged FEMALE HUMAN/INHUMANS!  Adam and Eve decided, “OMG!  What are you up to NOW! Us aging, having to wear clothes due to our sexual promiscuities and not being in paradise anymore, and we will call her a snake instead!”  “SSSSH”, they said, “we’ll be the People of the Lack and blame her instead.”  Was that it!  Priests TELL!  Afterall, Your the ones that burned bibles for millions of years.  Everyone else just changed their interpretations and extracted what they all wanted.