4 Views on Historical Adam – Views 2 and 3 (Walton, Collins)

4 Views on Historical Adam – Views 2 and 3 (Walton, Collins) January 9, 2014

We are continuing in our set of reviews of the book Four Views on the Historical Adam (Zondervan, 2013). Last time we reflected on the first view (no historical Adam), by Denis Lamoureux.

Now, we move on to views #2 and #3 by John Walton and C. John Collins. I am grouping them together here because, in the end, their positions on Adam is quite similar, though they disagree on some key issues regarding how to interpret Genesis, understand the origins of sin, and integrate scientific study.

Let’s start with John Walton. His view is labelled “Archetypal Creation View.” The title is a bit idiosyncratic and only makes sense after you read his essay. Here is Walton’s introductory statement:

In my view, Adam and Eve are historical figures –real people in a real past. Nevertheless, I am persuaded that the biblical text is more interested in them as archetypal figures who represent all of humanity. This is particularly true in the account in Genesis 2 about their formation. I contend that the formation accounts are not addressing their material formation as biological specimens, but are addressing the forming of all of humanity: we are all formed from dust, and we are all gendered halves. If this is true, Genesis 2 is not making claims about biological origins of humanity, and therefore the Bible should not be viewed as offering competing claims against science about human origins. If this is true, Adam and Eve also may or may not be the first humans or the parents of the entire human race. Such an archetypal focus is theologically viable and is well-represented in the ancient Near East.

There are four aspects of Walton’s approach (fleshed out [pun intended!] in the rest of the essay) that I want to flag up. First is that he does not see, in Genesis 1-2 itself, a necessity to take language about the creation of Adam and Eve literally (i.e., scientifically or historically in a strict way). Secondly, though, he does think that the Bible itself points to a real Adam and Eve. Importantly, this is because of Walton’s reading of all of Scripture, not just Genesis 1-2. Thirdly, he wants to underscore that, despite the fact he believes the Bible points to a real Adam/Eve, the focus in Genesis is on this pair as “archetypal” figures – representative of all of humanity.

Lastly, Walton tries to theorize how one might reconcile a “real Adam” with scientific notions of human origins. He presents this hypothetical scenario, though he is not personally committed to it. What if humans were a part of the evolutionary process, and then God “undertook a special act of creation” to give humanity the image of God? After some time, we find “Adam and Eve” (among many other humans) who become representatives of humanity. When they disobeyed God, disorder resulted and there was a serious rupture in the divine-human relation: “They and all humanity with them are now in sin and subject to death because, having lost access to the antidote, they are doomed to their inherent mortality. Accountability and disorder become the lot of humanity.” (115).

Responses: I found Collins’ response most informative among the respondents – he especially is concerned with Walton’s approach to sin – where did it come from? Does Walton’s approach make clear “the foreignness of sin in God’s plan” (p. 131)?

Now on to C. John Collins’ chapter, “Historical Adam: Old-Earth Creation View.” 

Much like Walton, Collins takes much scientific evidence and theories seriously (hence “old earth”), but believes the Bible points to a real historical Adam. Here is Collins’ opening statement.

In this chapter I argue that the best way to account for the biblical presentation of human life is to understand that Adam and Eve were both real persons at the headwaters of humankind. By “biblical presentation,” I refer not only to the story in Genesis and the biblical passages that refer to it, but also to the larger biblical story line, which deals with God’s good creation invaded by sin, for which God has a redemptive plan; of Israel’s calling to be a light to the nations; and of the church’s prospect of successfully bringing God’s light to the whole world. That concerns the unique role and dignity of the human race, which is a matter of daily experience for everyone: All people yearn for God and need him, must depend on him to deal with their sinfulness, and crave a wholesome community for their lives to flourish.

I argue that the nature of the biblical material should keep us from being too literalistic in our reading of Adam and Eve, leaving room for an Earth that is not young, but that the biblical material along with good critical thinking provides certain freedoms and limitations for connecting the Bible’s creation account to a scientific and historical account of human origins. (p. 143).

Notice the language of “headwaters”- this is a major difference between Collins and Walton. Collins is quite insistent that there be a “humankind of actually one family, with one set of ancestors for us all..[and] God acted specially to form our first parents…at the headwaters of the human race;” (164) and they “brought sin and dysfunction into the world of human life” (164).

Responses: Lamoureux and Walton both make the point that, even if Collins’ approach (Adam/Eve as headwaters, first parents solely) seems theologically satisfying, Collins does not (in this book) reconcile that with scientific concerns about how humans originated and in what numbers (surely not beginning with 2 mature, rational humans, many scientists would say).


Walton and Collins are both working at an important level – looking closely at (a) how the Bible works historically (its historical claims), (b) how the worldview of Scripture is constructed over and against other worldviews (and particularly what the worldview-story non-negotiables are), and (c) how compelling scientific facts and theories cause us to think and re-think the testimony of Scripture.

Frankly, I am leaning towards “yes” to a historical Adam (as with Walton, Collins), but not sure how I would conceive of the question of “first two people or not.” At the moment, especially hearing from Lamoureux and Walton, it’s hard to imagine Adam and Eve scientifically as the first parents, the “headwaters” as Collins calls it. I like Walton’s overall approach, though I don’t find his hypothetical scenario compelling.

What is needed (for me) is more study. Always more study.

I had originally not intended to review Barrick’s position (as the traditional viewpoint), but I think now I will say something brief in another post.

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