The Fall and Sin After Darwin 2 (RJS)

The Fall and Sin After Darwin 2 (RJS) October 19, 2010

We’ve been looking at the essays in a book Theology After Darwin centered around a simple question: What are the implications for Christian theology if Darwin was right? At the top of the list for many is the implication for the doctrines of sin and the Fall. After all, evolutionary creation calls into question the existence of Adam and Eve as historical individuals and this has, or so many think, serious consequences. I started a series a couple of weeks ago that began to look at the issues of sin and the Fall (part one) using one essay from Theology After Darwin and three articles from the recent theme issue of the ASA Journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (v. 62 no. 3 2010) Reading Genesis: The Historicity of Adam and Eve, Genomics, and Evolutionary Science. Last week was rather busy and I didn’t have the time to dig into the topic, but today I return and continue the series looking at the article by Daniel C. Harlow, After Adam: Reading Genesis in an Age of Evolutionary Science (pp. 179-195 – pdf available at the link to the left).

Dr. Harlow is a professor of religion at Calvin College, he obtained his Ph.D. at Notre Dame studying the ever fascinating Greek Apocalypse of Baruch (3 Baruch). In his article in PSCF he takes a nonconcordist approach to Genesis and looks at the text as story rather than history. He considers Adam and Eve as symbolic literary figures, and yet upholds what he considers a viable doctrine of both original sin and the fall. He finds the biblical support for these doctrines, not in Genesis or the Old Testament, but in Paul. The doctrines don’t stand or fall with a historical Adam, he suggests, but with the gospel of Jesus Christ preached by Paul. There is much to consider in this article – and we will devote a couple of posts to it. The first, today, will focus on his view of Genesis and reasons for his conclusions; the second will focus on the consequences of this view of Genesis on the doctrines of Original Sin and the Fall.

To begin with, Dr. Harlow sees five basic scenarios within Christian thinking today:

  • Traditional young-earth view that Adam and Eve are recent ancestors of the entire human race (their children married each other because there were no other humans) ca. 10000 years ago (ybp).
  • Old-earth view that God created humans some 150000 ybp, but selected a representative pair some 10000 ybp.
  • Old-earth view that God selected or modified a unique pair of hominids some 150000 ybp.
  • Old-earth view that God revealed himself to a large group of humans some 150000 ybp and Adam and Eve are symbolic of this group.
  • Adam and Eve are literary figures in a divinely inspired story that intends to teach primarily theological not historical truth.

All five of these views take scripture seriously. Note that none of these options dismiss scripture as mere myth, none of them deny inspiration, and none of them deny the existence of God or of his active and personal relationship with his creation or his people.  All of them take scripture very seriously as God given and revealed truth. The first is traditional, the next three assume a level of concordance between history and the Gen.2-3 story. The last four all are or can be consistent with modern science. The last assumes a concordance between truth and scripture, but not between Gen. 2-3 and history.

Before we continue – Which of these best describes your understanding – Literal, Concordist, or Literary? Which do you find troublesome?

Dr. Harlow finds the concordist scenarios, so common in evangelical thinking, distinctly unsatisfactory, in the way they shape and distort both science and the OT text. Even many otherwise outstanding books on science and faith (eg. Falk’s Coming to Peace with Science and Collins’s The Language of God) accept a level of concordism that Harlow questions. He points to Denis O. Lamoureux’s Evolutionary Creation as a welcome exception to this trend. (As an aside, I have Lamoureux’s book and will post on it in the upcoming months. Several readers have told me in e-mails that they found his book very helpful.)

According to Harlow:

The attractiveness of this last position is twofold: it does not contradict modern science (as the first scenario does), and it does not read into the biblical text anachronistic notions that would have been inconceivable to the ancient author(s) and audience(s) of Genesis (as the second, third, and fourth concordist scenarios do). (p. 181)

The textual problem with a young earth approach are as severe as the scientific problems. The problems with a concordist approach arise not on scientific grounds, but on textual grounds. It is important to realize this … while science plays a role in our thinking, it is not the major player in conclusions about Genesis – at least among biblical scholars and experts in ancient near east history or in literature. While modern scientific understanding is inconsistent with the population bottlenecks described in Genesis 1-11, archaeology and biblical studies alone  provide an equally severe challenge.

The most general reason why biblical scholars recognize Adam and Eve as strictly literary figures has to do with the genre of the narratives in chapters 1–11 of Genesis. The vast majority of interpreters take the narratives in these chapters as story, not history, because their portrait of protohistory from creation to flood to Babel looks very stylized—with sequences, events, and characters that look more symbolic than “real” events and characters in “normal” history. All of the episodes are to a great extent etiological, designed to explain the origins or cause of aspects of human life in the world—marriage, sexual desire, and patriarchy; toil in agricultural labor; pain in childbirth; the beginnings of material culture and civilization; diversity in language; and so forth. (p. 181)

Harlow will continue on in the article to outline the various reasons for these conclusions – but first makes it clear that he has come to share the view …

… that the narratives in Genesis 1–11 were probably written and read as both paradigmatic and protohistorical- imaginative portrayals of an actual epoch in a never-to-be-repeated past that also bears archetypal significance for the ongoing human situation. (p. 182)

What is the textual evidence for this view – the evidence that he finds so convincing? First the primeval history (Gen 1-11) appears to be an inspired retelling and appropriation of ANE traditions and cultural understanding.  The connections include the garden paradise, the creation from clay, process of trial and error, the lady of the rib, wisdom equated with becoming like the gods, immortality as a gift from the gods, the serpent, nakedness as a symbol of primitiveness,  Harlow has tables in the article that compare and contrast various sources.

The presence of two or three creation stories in the text is additional textual support intrinsic to scripture – it does not require connection with outside sources. Gen. 1 and Gen. 2 cannot both be completely literal historical.  On top of this they both reflect common ANE motifs. Harlow points out that English translations sometimes hide the inconsistencies. The NIV uses a questionable translation, he suggests, to cover up or account for the inconsistency (after all … perhaps the translators thought … we know the two accounts must be consistent).  Consider the translations of Gen 2-8 and 19 from the NASB and the NIV:

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.  … Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.  (NASB)

the LORD God formed the man  from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.  Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. … The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.  (NIV)

The NASB is literal, with the implication of sequential action – man, then plants, then animals. The NIV – for consistency with Genesis 1 – changes the verbs to imply prior creation of plants and animals.  The ESV uses planted (as the NASB) but had formed (as the NIV). The real question here – what is the intent of the original Hebrew? Harlow suggests that the intent in Genesis 2 is sequential action, this is inconsistent with Genesis 1, the translators harmonized the text.  The fact that the two accounts are not consistent should inform our understanding of the genre and intent of Gen 1-3 (in fact set the stage for our interpretation of Gen 1-11).

Other textual clues. In addition to the parallels between ANE literature and Genesis and the parallel creation accounts in Gen 1-2, there are a number of other textual clues to the form and intent of Gen. 1-3 as well. Some discussed by Dr. Harlow include:

  • The trees, rivers, gold, jewels, cherubim, … these probably link to the symbolism of the tabernacle and temple. Formed by these traditions – not forming these traditions.
  • The names, Adam as “human” and Eve as “living one,” are symbolic and representative.
  • The talking snake is introduced with a word play and is obviously a literary figure – in ANE mythology, Harlow notes, “snakes were variously a symbol of life, wisdom, and chaos—precisely those themes seen in Genesis 3.”
  • The anthropomorphic portrayal of God – walking in the garden, creating a helpmate by trial and error.
  • The story of Cain and Abel in Gen 4
  • The form of the genealogies of Gen 4,5 (esp. the parallelisms). These are not history – and give no real indication of historicity.  Such genealogies “were a popular and largely fictional literary device in the ancient Near East for asserting a people’s cultural importance or a dynasty’s political legitimacy.” Even the lengthy lifespans represent a common form that served “to suggest the superiority of primeval times over the present.

What does this mean for our understanding of the Bible as scripture? These observations from the text don’t undermine Genesis as scripture, they are not problems or puzzles to be solved. Rather, they inform our understanding of scripture and the nature of inspiration.

… None of these observations serves to discredit the Bible but only to clarify the nature of the passages in question. The ancient biblical authors did not miswrite these genealogies; we moderns have simply misread them. (p. 187)

This is an observation I have made in the past – and informs much of my approach today. Scripture contains truth in many forms and genres. We must read the text with faith and with literary intelligence.  The ancient writers used the forms and ideas common to their day and culture to convey the truth inspired by God – as we find poetry in the Psalms, wisdom sayings in Proverbs, apocalypse in Daniel, and even the reference to the altar to the unknown God in Acts. We should also note that stories are a powerful way to convey truth – Jesus used the form in his parables for a reason.

The next step – having looked at the form of the text of Gen 2-3 – is to consider what it means to take Gen 2-3 on its own terms and to consider this in the context of Romans 5.  Harlow addresses both of these – and we will consider his discussion in the next post. We will also consider, in an upcoming post, the article by Dr. C. John Collins who argues and opposing view – that a literal interpretation of Adam and Eve as real persons is theologically important and is a more appropriate interpretation of Gen 2-3.

For now I would like to consider the general argument outlined above, that the form of the text of Gen 1-11 itself argues for a literary interpretation as story. It is inspired truth – but it is divinely inspired story to teach theological truth. It is not divinely inspired, dictated, history.

Do you find Dr. Harlow’s arguments convincing?

If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

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  • Tim

    Excellent post RJS! The issues for Biblical interpretation brought up by ancient near east scholarship, archeology, and evolutionary science are all represented in your excellent post. It looks like Dr. Harlow is seriously engaging the theological implications for this material, and he definitely has my sincere respect and appreciation for doing so.

  • Justin

    If I understand this correctly, the fact that the genealogies weren’t historically valid wouldn’t have upset the original audience because they would have understood their true intent?

    That’s an interesting thought. I don’t hold to a young-earth view of creation and am not convinced the Bible does either, but I’ve never quite understood how the genealogies would make sense in that context.

  • “Moruti” Lutz

    I really sometimes fail to see, where the problem lies. It is a fact, that the bible was written in a pre-scientific age – but that is not a fault! It is a fact that the bible does not tell me how to cook lasagne or how to repair my car – but that is not a fault! I use a cookbook or a car repair manual -, respectively, (not the bible!) and get good results. If I want to know about science (e.g the origin of humankind), I take a textbook – (not the bible!).
    So I guess the problem is largely homemade (albeit historically conditioned): peolpe comming with the wrong expectation to the wrong sort of text. But that does not take away of the value of the bible.

  • Jonathan

    Good post. I was meditating recently on the opening of Genesis and it occurred to me that the most literal reading of the text still leaves us with only five or six events to represent 2000 years of human history. Even if these were historical happenings that went exactly as recorded, the editorial intent seems likely to favor a symbolic or metaphoric interpretation.

  • Chris

    Enjoyed the post. I look forward to hearing what this all means for Paul who seems to have taken this literally….or did he:)?

  • “Moruti” Lutz

    Ok, to put this in more general terms: why do we allow the enlightenment worldview (hermeneutics/epistomology)to limit our categories of “truth” to the only permissible ones of “scientific” and “historic”? Why do we not start to redeem other modes of truth (e.g. “symbolic”, “mythological” or “literary”) unashamedly in our biblical hermeneutics? I really don’t see any good reason for that. But when I read the discussion above I always get the impression that there is this (tacid) assumption: just because something should be classified as “mythology”; just because we realize that we are dealing with “literary” characters – that should somehow convey less “truth” (or “sense-making” if you prefere) than the idea say of a “historic” Adam…

  • dopderbeck

    Great post on an excellent article by Harlow. I think all the “clues” or signals he presents convincingly demonstrate that the Gen. 1-11 texts were not constructed as simple factual narratives. However, I’m not really comfortable with these categories of “accomdation” and “concordist.” These categories themselves seem to impose our own ideas about genre conventions onto the text.

    I fall more into “Adam as real representative person” category, for some of the doctrinal reasons John Collins outlines in his article in the same issue of PSCF. But I don’t think my view is “concordist” because I think the literary form of the text is describing real events involving real people in the form of “saga” or “myth.” A category like mytho-historical fits my view better, I think.

  • DRT

    Very good post.

    I am a literary interpreter of the text (number 5) but I am also a closet creationist in the sense that I think it would be cool if God really did intervene in some way so I have an active fantasy life in that regard.

  • DRT

    BTW, the Jesus-Adam in the picture is giving me the creeps.

  • AHH

    I lean toward “literary” but also have sympathy for the sort of “mytho-historical” (sometimes the phrase “soft concordism” is used) that dopderbeck advocates.

    Harlow’s article was one of the best reasoned, most constructive things I have ever read on this topic. And (as with John Walton at Wheaton) it is encouraging that rejection of fundamentalist approaches to Genesis is coming from an institution like Calvin rather than some mainline place that Evangelicals could dismiss as liberal.

    I think healing in this area in the church requires acknowledging that concordism (at least in its more hardline forms) is NOT faithful to Scripture, because it demands the texts answer our modern questions which they were not intended to address.

    Harlow is apparently coauthoring a book on these topics with a Calvin theologian and a biologist; I’ll look forward to seeing that.

  • rjs


    The photo is of a carving on Notre Dame in Paris showing Adam, Eve, and the snake (as a woman). I figured it was fitting for this post.

  • The literary approach best describes my understanding of Genesis 1-11, but I think that somehow maintaining the possibility of an historical Adam and Eve solves more problems than it creates.

  • Rapha

    I don’t think anyone cares, considering I’m just a random theology student, but I would fall into what it looks like is being called “soft concordism” (historical people/events being communicated in a literary way).

    I’m going to point out one nitpick, then ask a question: “The trees, rivers, gold, jewels, cherubim, … these probably link to the symbolism of the tabernacle and temple. Formed by these traditions – not forming these traditions.” = Totally begging the question. Typical (and by typical I mean understandable) evidence that fits if the conclusion is already assumed, but doesn’t necessarily point to the conclusion.

    You mentioned toward the beginning that all these approaches take Scripture seriously. It seems to me that Scripture itself takes this account quite literally (although uninterested in the scientific details), as demonstrated by Adam appearing in genealogies among people who (hopefully) no one here would question their historicity, the explanation of the Sabbath being a representation/remembering of the six days God worked and the day He rested (Ex 20:11, 31:15), and the already multiple times mentioned references by Paul. How do you interpret these secondary connections/references? Did Moses, the writer of 2 Chronicles, Hosea, Luke, Jude and Paul all understand that Adam wasn’t a real person but a literary representation and then the Church somehow forgot over the years? Did they not understand but it doesn’t matter anyway?

  • rjs


    On the nitpick – read Harlow’s article; my bullet point is a very short summary. But what we really need here is the input of some OT scholars.

    The argument is that the highly stylized forms of these elements reflect the time in which they were written, not the protohistorical era itself. As for begging the question – in the field of literature, ancient or modern, the only reason one would assume that these elements in Genesis came first and the elements in tabernacle and temple came second is an assumption that it must be so. Basically the same reason the NIV translated to place the creation of animals before the creation of the man. We need to stop taking these kinds of assumptions to the text as we read.

    We will discuss Paul and Adam in the next post – but the genealogies were a common literary device – this is true in Genesis, Chronicles, and even Matthew and Luke. To infer historicity in all but the most general terms from these is a mistake. The genealogies connect with Genesis and the cultural history of the people. Adam “the human” is significant in this cultural history, not as an individual but as a beginning.

    I rather expect that many (perhaps most) of the readers here fall into a soft concordist position. I waver. I don’t find day-age readings convincing, but it is significant that God created mankind for a purpose, and “being human” means much more than smarter, more creative, animal.

  • JM

    From a Hebrew grammatical perspective, it’s misleading to say that “created” is the LITERAL translation and “had created” is not.

    The Hebrew perfect tense covers a wide range of English tenses including both past and pluperfect. The pluperfect English translation (NIV, ESV) is contextually based and no less “literal” than the simple past tense translation (NASB).

  • rjs


    This is a discussion I would like to have here – as I know no Hebrew at all, I pretend to no expertise.

    But — I think the point is that in the context of Gen 2-3 the literal interpretation in context is “created” and “formed”. The only reason one would choose “had created” and “had formed” is because the context is assumed to include Gen 1 and that Gen 1 and Gen 2 should harmonize.

    So this to any Hebrew scholars… taking Gen 2 alone (pretend Gen 1 doesn’t exist) what is the contextual interpretation?

  • Rapha took the words right out of my mouth (I’d like them back please), and I don’t think it’s a nitpick.

    The disparity between Genesis 1 and 2 has been studied at length. Other than that, we have a series of assertions, which are useful for learning where the author stands, and not much else.

  • dopderbeck

    JM(#15) — I’m not a Hebrew scholar either, but Pete Enns’ discussion of the contextual and grammatical issues seems very convincing to me: here and here and here. As he notes:

    “At this point (v. 8), the NIV translates the simple Hebrew past “The Lord God planted a garden” as an English pluperfect “The Lord God had planted a garden.” Throughout this story the NIV handles the simple past as a simple past, but not here. Why? The NIV opts for the pluperfect in order to push the creation of the garden back before the creation of the manto preserve the sequence of Genesis 1. The NRSV is better here by preserving the simple past, therefore reading Genesis 2 sequentially. The same point holds for v. 19 and the creation of the animals. Genesis 2 has them created after the man, but the NIV again uses the pluperfect to push the creation of animals back before humanity to harmonize the sequences of the two creation stories. Here too the NRSV preserves the simple past.”

    In short, there are major, intentional differences between the two accounts, the use of the pluperfect by the NIV in Gen. 2 is contrived, and the accounts are not meant to be “harmonized.”

  • EricW

    @18. dopderdeck:

    In short, there are major, intentional differences between the two accounts, the use of the pluperfect by the NIV in Gen. 2 is contrived, and the accounts are not meant to be “harmonized.”

    I’m reading The Use of the Septuagint in New Testament Research by R. Timothy McLay, and this passage from his book seems relevant:

    ‎”The final stage of analyzing T[ranslation] T[echnique] has to do with the effect on meaning that is produced by the translation. How much has the meaning of the text changed in the process of translation? This question is particularly pertinent to our study because the Greek translations of the Hebrew Scriptures took on their own life in the Greek-speaking Jewish community and eventually in the Early Church. The Greek Jewish Scriptures became for all intents and purposes the Bible of the Early Church; therefore, it is reasonable to expect that the N[ew] T[estament] writers and the texts they produced exhibit an influence from the Greek texts of the Jewish Scriptures that is distinct from what they might have believed and written if they had only the Hebrew Scriptures.”

    Two thoughts:

    1. We have to work with the Hebrew texts if we are going to discuss Genesis 1-3. And hopefully some Hebrew scholars/students will weigh in here as requested.

    2. Was Paul’s theology of Adam, the Fall, and Sin in any way affected or influenced by the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures? I don’t even know if there is or are any significant difference(s) between the Greek translations of Genesis 1-3 that Paul might have read and used and the “original” Hebrew text itself. But it’s an aspect that impinges on this topic, ISTM. I.e., what did Paul read and use, and did it in any way affect his writing about these things? I.e., is Paul’s interpretation of Adam, the Fall, and Sin skewed in any way by reading or working from the Greek translation of Genesis?

  • dopderbeck

    @EricW — good question — beyond my knowledge and competence! Anyone know?

  • EricW

    @dopderbeck 20.: Sorry I misspelled your name in my last post. Logos has a resource that in an interlinear fashion lines the Masoretic Hebrew Text on top of the LXX text (no LXX variants, though – I assume they use the Rahlfs text) and shows omissions and additions. It augments only the Hebrew text with lexical aids, but I could open up the LXX beside it and get help with any unknown Greek words. This would allow one to compare the MT with the LXX word by word and see how or where Genesis differs between the two. I already know of a couple additions and omissions. Don’t know if this affects any doctrine or understanding of Genesis 1-3, though. Unfortunately, I don’t know Hebrew grammar well enough to understand the verb forms used and what their meaning or translation might mean, as well as whether their translation into Greek aorists or presents or perfects, etc., skews the meaning of the Hebrew.

  • rjs

    kevin s,

    It is rather dismissive to simply claim that these are assertions good for nothing other than “for learning where the author stands, and not much else.” In fact this dismissiveness smacks of the anti-intellectualism rampant in evangelicalism.

    I am not saying that Harlow is right, and I am certainly not saying that his comments and claims should go unchallenged. I am saying that we must actually interact with the ideas and observations.

    All of these “assertions” have been studied at length by OT scholars and represent a great deal more than mere assertions – but some are controversial and worth serious discussion.

  • Dan Arnold

    Warning: Grammar geekiness ahead.

    The LXX translates both verbs under discussion as active, aorist, indicative which conveys something occurring in the past with reference to the person writing. We do not know when it started nor when/if it completed; only that it occurred in the past. This would have a fairly strong correlation to the Hebrew perfect, but we must remember a couple things. 1) Hebrew does not have the variety of tenses that Greek has and 2) In Greek, time is only one component of a verb tense. Tenses usually embody both time and aspect in Greek, not so much in Hebrew. So, for example, the present tense in Greek connotes on-going action. Thus, instead of saying, “so-and-so does something,” it would be more literal to translate it as “so-and-so is doing something” because the present tense conveys an aspect of on-going activity.

    In this particular case, the verbs in Hebrew are both imperfects (future) with waw consecutives which actually serves to reverse the tense of the Hebrew verbs causing it to be read as a perfect. (Although some Grammars may treat this as a distinct tense, it still is understood to be representing something in the past.) It is significant to this discussion because it can be used to link consecutive events. (Hence, why it is called a waw consecutive.) The Greek translator, therefore, rendered the Hebrew in a fairly literal fashion, one which would not justify the pluperfect translation of the NIV. The Hebrew and the Greek both convey something that happened in the past, but we do not know if it was completed nor do we know when it started.

  • TLC

    Answers to your first questions.

    1. Literal

    2. Concordist

  • Rapha

    @ rjs (#14 & 22)

    What I mean, and what I presume kevin s. means, is that saying the tabernacle came first and the garden imagery was influenced by it only tells us that the author believes this to be true and confirms it with evidence, aka begging the question. To say that the garden came first and is reflected by imagery in the tabernacle has the exact same problem.

    … or, in my opinion, would have, if it were not for the fact that the Scripture records the Garden as coming first. Even if you take the Garden as a literary devise, it was the literary device God chose to use to communicate where He met directly with His people, so it makes sense that He would ordain imagery for the Garden to be included in the Tabernacle to remind His people that His Presence is found there. I don’t see any reason for the reverse (tabernacle first) to be true other than if you come with the already-formed(forming?) conclusion that the Garden never existed and the surrounding imagery in the tabernacle influenced the writer. But then why did God ordain that imagery to be found in the tabernacle at all? Because God thinks trees are pretty?

    Re: genealogies: You caught/addressed a common uneducated assumption (that genealogies are complete and cover all the people/history in-between) and missed the point. I understand that genealogies are highlights of major ancestors/developments, but they highlight the people, real historical people, that were responsible for/participated in such highlights. Rahab and Tamar, for example, may be relevant to Jesus’ genealogy only because they highlighted God’s using of imperfect people, but Matthew didn’t invent a person, call her Rahar, and trust his audience to understand that she represented the imperfect people God used. He chose them as examples from among the real historical people in the Messianic line and selectively included them among the others. Why is Adam the exception to this practice?

  • DRT

    Dan@23, nice, you sound like an expert to me so what do you think (as we have Dan on the witness stand)? NASB or NIV?

  • “It is rather dismissive to simply claim that these are assertions good for nothing other than “for learning where the author stands, and not much else.” In fact this dismissiveness smacks of the anti-intellectualism rampant in evangelicalism.”

    Dismissing assertions as mere opinions is not anti-intellectual. Quite the opposite.

  • Rapha

    Wow. My mini-novella I tried to post earlier disappeared into the ether. Maybe it’s for the best … I’ll Reader’s Digest version it:


    Your dismissiveness smacks of anti-evangelicalism that is rampant in intellectualism. Stereotyping cuts both ways.

    Re-read most (at very least some) of the author’s assertions such as the tabernacle imagery paragraph. Many times the evidence of the conclusion holds only because the (overwhelmingly confirmed by science ™! You can’t possibly disagree with me!) conclusion is assumed to be true. Whether or not the conclusion is true is a whole different issue, but that kind of “evidence” isn’t evidence at all. Saying so isn’t anti-intellectualism, that’s properly calling out a logical fallacy.

    Re: genealogies– You missed the point. Yes I know that they are representatives “highlight reels” and not complete lists of every person/generation from start to finish. But all the other people in said genealogies are actual historical people, not literary devices. Why is Adam the exception?

  • rjs


    I’ll get back to the points in your comment – but unlike kevin s, you put up ideas for discussion and engage with the ideas – as here when you came back on the genealogies. I certainly won’t be dismissive of your ideas – whether I agree or disagree I will engage.

    kevin’s comment was simply dismissive with a taste of ridicule without providing reason or engagement. That is the approach that I was criticizing. Do the hard work – think and defend your position. I am willing to be shown wrong, but you have to prove your point. I’ve changed my mind about things on this blog before. I rather expect it will happen again sometime on some issue.

  • rjs


    In the later genealogies of Chronicles, Matthew and Luke some of the people are clearly real people, some we know nothing about. But Matthew and Luke are not the same and both cannot be “literally” correct. The church has harmonized them by imposing on the text an assumption that one is the generations of Mary and the other of Joseph – but this is an external imposition on the text. I really don’t think they were intended to be historically accurate literal genealogies in large part because Matthew and Luke disagree. This informs my understanding of the genre of genealogy in scripture.

    With respect to Adam – the Lukan genealogy connects to Genesis and places Jesus in this context – where Genesis is historical, it connects with history; in the protohistory of Genesis 1-11 I don’t think the connection says anything about historicity.

    The genealogies in Gen 4, 5, and 11 (up to about Terah) are very highly stylized genealogies – and have every appearance of literary form. I don’t see why we’d take any of these as literal-historical. When we get to Abram, and the connection between Abram and the primeval history (eg. Terah etc.) the whole tone of the text changes. Now I think that Gen. 12 on has literary elements in the telling of the history, but it is much more anchored in cultural history.

    So basically, I don’t think that it is “just” Adam who is taken as non-historical. We need to look at the evidence we have before us.

  • Rapha

    Let me re-frame what I’m trying to say:

    The feeding of the 5,000 is chronologically inaccurate, and there are details in the narrative with are probably not “literally” true, and science can’t support the idea that food was supernaturally conjured. That’s because the writer is most interested with what point the story is trying to make. Therefore, unimportant details are estimated and the chronology is arranged and grouped in a way to best tell the story. The historicity of the basic facts, that Jesus miraculously fed a large group of people, is however not in dispute.

    The feeding of the 5,000 is chronologically inaccurate, and there are details in the narrative with are probably not “literally” true, and science can’t support the idea that food was supernaturally conjured. That’s because the writer is most interested with what point the story is trying to make. Therefore, the story is a literary device and the historicity of the basic facts do not need to be considered (or can assumed to be false).

    Didn’t I just make two completely different statements?

    While I realize that there are limitation to my little analogy, that’s where my basic hang-up is. All the genealogies you mentioned aren’t “literally” true in the sense that they don’t match up, clearly aren’t exhaustive, etc. To say that one, or some of the people listed therein are fictional is another logical step entirely. Isn’t it possible that those genealogies are literary devices in that they pick and choose who to highlight for the purpose of making a point without taking the next step and assuming some of the people listed to be fictional?

    Re: dismissiveness: I think what kevin was getting at, which I agree with, is that the article itself doesn’t really present ideas worth discussing since the overwhelming majority of it is invalid in that it to arrives at a conclusion via fallacious means, namely begging the question (assuming that Adam couldn’t have existed then explain why, since Adam didn’t exist, our theology should be like so). If you don’t agree with the assumed conclusion engaging the theology piece is pretty much pointless, and the author presents nothing (other than stating that research in such-and-such area has indisputably proven the premise) to support said conclusion, certainly not from the text itself at least.

  • Dan Arnold

    DRT (#25),

    I am far from an expert on either Hebrew or Greek (especially the Greek in the Septuagint, which is somewhat different from both the Koine of the NT and classical Greek). With that said, the NASB is faithful to its translation philosophy and renders the Hebrew quite literally. The NIV, which seeks a more dynamic equivalency, still has less justification for the pluperfect. It is not, however, out of the realm of possibility for the Hebrew. The LXX, however, would lend weight opposing the NIV’s translation.

    With that said, the majority of Bible readers have probably never concerned themselves with what a pluperfect means grammatically and would therefore probably not pick up on the nuances.

  • Tim


    Not everything has to stem from theology or biblical scholarship in general. We don’t “assume” that Adam never existed. Evolutionary science informs us that there likely was never any Adam – at least, there was never any primordial pair in the past 10,000 years or so from which all humanity sprung. Mitochondrial Eve is estimated to have lived over 100,000 years ago, for instance. Genetic diversity studies also suggests that our population never bottle-necked under a few thousand humans during the past 200,000 years. Going further back, we have a record of transitional ancestors/cousins of ancestors starting with Homo Heidelbergensis and continuing to the Australopithecines.

    So, we don’t “assume” Adam never existed.

  • rjs

    kevin s, #26

    I missed your comment here or I would have replied to it directly not by proxy through Rapha’a comment that followed yours.

    If you defend your positions, argue why you think Harlow is wrong, explain where you think he is wrong – fine. But you don’t do that – you give a summary and unsupported dismissive comment.

    In your comment though it appears as though you are suggesting that Harlow’s arguments are determined by his a priori position rather than reasoning that provides the foundation for his position. I rather doubt it worked that was for him – I know it didn’t work that way for me.

    So convince us where we are wrong.

  • rjs


    Your illustration of the feeding of the 5000 is a good entry into this topic. But the genealogies are not the issue with the historicity of Adam. The only reason the genealogies come into the discussion – at least in my conversations with others in the past – is when they are used as a proof that Adam must have existed.

    My argument here – and I think Harlow’s argument as well – is that the genealogies are not a proof for the existence of Adam, or for that matter for the existence of Abraham or David either. Now I don’t dispute on the historicity of either of the latter because the scriptural evidence through and through attests to the existence of these people, even if the details take literary forms at times. These histories have a ring of truth to them through out.

    I question the historicity of Adam as a unique individual because the stories don’t have that ring of historicity. This is where many of Harlow’s other points come into the conversation.

  • I don’t find it persuasive to dismiss Luke as not being interested in historical accuracy in his genealogy. He presents himself, in the opening verses of his Gospel, as being concerned to set forth an accurate and orderly account, and his Gospel demonstrates him to be a good and thoughtful historian. So, to suppose that suddenly he is not interested in whether the lineage of Jesus, from Nahor back to Adam is not about people who actually existed in history, but is rather some sort of literary fiction ~ I don’t think that treats his work seriously.

  • Rapha

    I don’t want to get sidetracked into the scientific discoveries that “disprove” a historical Adam because, to be fair, I’m unaware of some of these other specific examples mentioned (mitochondrial Eve, for example) and don’t particularly feel a deep need to, and I’ll explain why I’m comfortable making that statement. It’s because the last example you gave of a record of “transitional ancestors” is a perfect example of the sort of begging the question type philosophy that underpins all the evidence for Darwinism I’ve seen so far. The concept of “transitional ancestors” relies on the assumption that simpler (or less like modern homo sapiens, in the case of evolution of man) indicates earlier and that similar indicates “transitional.” This connection only makes sense if you assume the conclusion (Darwinism) to be true. And this consensus that Darwinism is true is because as a society we’ve largely accepted scientific naturalism to be true. If you hold to scientific naturalism, then Darwinism is the best explanation for the empirical evidence we have by far. But I don’t hold to scientific naturalism, and find that without it the evidence require Darwinism at all. I’m not such a fool as to argue that it requires strict young-earth “literal” creationism either, but my original point still stands. There are other examples where this is fairly clearly true (radio-isotope dating comes to mind), but a) I’m quite certain I’m not going to convince you and b) that’s really not what I’m trying to discuss here. But it’s foolish to say that philosophy (and its close cousin, theology), has little or nothing to do with reaching any conclusions, scientific or otherwise.


    I wouldn’t that the genealogies are (in and of themselves) proof that Adam existed. I would, however, say that the genealogies prove that the biblical writers took the historicity of Adam seriously, and I don’t see how one can say that one takes the Bible seriously but doesn’t take something that the biblical writers take seriously seriously (now that’s a mouthful!) spanning several different authors, not to mention thousands of years apart.

    I mean, say this to yourself out loud, “God led (or at least allowed) the apostle Paul, Luke, Jude, Hosea, (whoever the writer(s) of 1 Chronicles is/are), and Moses (or whoever you believe wrote Genesis) to believe it was history, but it just doesn’t have the ring of historicity to me, so it must be fiction.” Really? This is taking Scripture seriously? I’m honestly not trying to be sarcastic, it just doesn’t make sense to me at all.

  • Tim


    Is everything “begging the question” to you? Begging the question involves a top-down logical argument in which the proposition to be proved is assumed true and is a form of circular argument.

    As in, we know that God exists because the Bible tells us so. To which the following question could be asked, “well, what if the text is mistaken?” The answer would then be, “it can’t be mistaken, God wrote it.” It’s circular, and certainly “begs the question” of not just God’s existence, but God’s authorship of the Bible as well.

    However, there are arguments that advocate for the Bible that don’t “beg the question.” Such as arguments for the historicity of the resurrection. Some of these arguments are ground-up (as opposed to top-down) inferential arguments. They can still be debated, but carte blanch assertions of “begging the question” would be inappropriate.

    In the same manner, it is inappropriate to claim that our evidence for evolution “begs the question” as it is highly inferential in nature. It’s not a top-down argument from a handful of propositions. We look at the biogeographic evidence, what sort of picture does that paint? We look at the genetic evidence, what patterns do we find there? We look at the fossil evidence, what sort of scenario of deposition there seems most likely? We do this across multiple fields and inferentially reason upwards from all these different slices of the evidential pie to a conclusion that evolution did happen. No begging of questions necessary.

  • Paul D.

    I agree with Tim. A lot of Christians descend into outright dishonesty when they make unwarranted disparaging remarks about evolutionary scientists (biologists, paleontologists, etc.) and the work they’ve done. The scientific process does not involve the fallacies Rapha suggests, and if you really want to dispute our body of evolutionary knowledge, you need to take an honest, scientific approach. Too many Christian think they can dismiss it with a bit of handwaving and think that constitutes a valid opinion.

  • rjs

    Paul D,

    I don’t think very many “descend into dishonesty” and making such a claim without backup in any situation just stops the dialogue without helping anyone.

    I do think that many Christians repeat claims without understanding any of the real evidence and don’t think about these issues deeply, or deeply enough. So we need to counter with well thought out explanations and reasons.

  • rjs

    Jeff Doles (#35),

    I do think that Luke is very much interested in history and in making historical connection. Luke-Acts is a powerful and critical part of the apostolic witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and to the development of the early church.

    But I don’t think it is disrespectful of Luke’s claims or his veracity to say that the history that he connects with beyond a certain point is the biblical text. When he connects to the genealogies in Chronicles or Genesis he is connecting to Chronicles and to Genesis. No matter what he thought of their genre and historicity (and he likely was, in our terms, a YEC literalist on this issue if he ever even thought much about it) he would still connect to these texts. He is connecting to a real cultural history. As a good thoughtful historian of his day and age he connected to the sources at hand. He was not given divine revelation beyond that on these matters.

    I would write and connect to Adam – Scot does it when he preaches and speaks quite often. For that matter I would connect to the snake and the fall – these are important inspired truths whether literal historical or in other forms.

  • RJS, the point, though, is that the Gospel of Luke treats Adam through Nahor, not as non-historical literary devices, but as historical persons. However much he treats the genealogies in Chronicles and Genesis, he understands them as historical, and so he presents that material as being historically true. There is, likewise, no reason to suppose that Matthew believed the people in his genealogy were literary creation and not historical. Nor is there reason to suppose that Paul took Adam to be merely a literary creation and not historical. Or that Jesus took Noah to be merely a literary creation and not historical. That you and Scot, twenty centuries later, might treat Adam as a literary device and not an historical person is irrelevant ~ it does not mean that the writers of the NT did so.

  • rjs

    Jeff Doles,

    We’ll get to Paul in the post tomorrow.

    But my point here is that Luke’s genealogy is a literary device that connects to Genesis. What he thought of Genesis is secondary – and no matter what he thought, he would have connected to Genesis.

    Is it your contention that Luke could not be in error on the genre of Genesis 1-11? Luke probably thought that there was a solid firmament above the earth as well – and that Genesis teaches this (Augustine 400 years later thought so).

    These are important questions – what does it make to take the writers seriously? and what does it mean (if anything) to realize that we all, the writers of scripture included, have limited viewpoint?

  • I don’t think anyone here has demonstrated Luke to be in error concerning the genre of Genesis. It has only been assumed so by some because of the prior assumption that Genesis 1-11 cannot be about the historical persons named therein but that they are just literary devices. I am simply pointing out that Luke appears to have taken them as historical, and I do not think he was unique among his contemporaries in doing so.

  • Papi

    Crev.Info ( reports on Keith Bennett’s recent article on New Scientist thusly:

    Common descent, he says, was not discovered by Charles Darwin; it was stipulated by him. It has been “accepted as a basic premise of biology since 1859.” If it is a premise, it is an a priori assumption or axiom; it is not a finding.

    In other words, Bennett seems to disagree with Tim when Tim claims that evolution is highly inferential in nature. Bennett seems to agree with Rapha that evolution is often merely assumed to be true. I suspect Bennett knows better than most of us here.

    To me, having been interested in the topic for the past 30 years, evolution (macro) appears to me to be a house of cards, kept standing by professional peer pressure to avoid disturbing the imposing but fragile structure.

    As regards the Biblical genealogies, it seems to me that the Biblical writers took the genealogies and early chapters of Genesis as historical, regardless of the styles in which they were recorded. I think that counts for something.

  • Rapha


    Just real quick, because I realize that it’s not going to get us anywhere … the whole concept of transitional ancestors is begging the question because it doesn’t work from the “ground up” as you mentioned. The “transitional” features of said “ancestors” are only transitional when compared to other creatures that came “before” and “after” it. Eg. one of the transitional features of human ancestors is increasing brain (or more specifically room for the brain in the skull) size. That’s one of the factors used to approximate which species came before or after the other, is it not? If you remove the assumption that these creatures are ancestors in the midst of an evolutionary process of becoming something (modern man), you simply have several creatures with varying brain sizes. The whole conclusion (the very concept of transition) is assumed, then confirmed by the evidence/premises (transitional ancestors), aka begging the question (“What if these individuals aren’t transitioning to or from anything?”).

    Now I don’t expect you to agree with me, because like you said, there’s all this evidence across all these fields that leads to believe in the Darwinist concept. I do not think Darwinist scientists (or you, yourself) are dumb or dishonest. I think that if you accept the conclusion (Darwinism), there’s mountains of evidence that fits said conclusion– I mean, how many areas of our lives do we all, myself included, do this in (unknowingly semi-critically at best accept something, then confirm it looking through the lens of what we’ve already accepted)? But I at least hope you understand that I’m not dumb either and that I understand what begging the question means.

  • rjs


    The argument that common descent is a premise or axiom and not a conclusion from the evidence is demonstrably wrong.

    Having just gone and read Bennett’s article it is clear that he does not disagree with Tim at all and that the use of that paragraph from his article is a text-book case of “quote-mining.” The quote is taken out of context and the author did not mean what you (or your source) claim he must have meant.

    The gist of Bennett’s article is that evolution is not a smooth and easily modeled, understood process. But this gets to a point I’ve made many times in the past – common descent can be read from the data, explaining the process is an area of active research, some questions are answered, many are not yet answered.

  • Rapha

    @ Paul D:

    “The scientific process does not involve the fallacies Rapha suggests, and if you really want to dispute our body of evolutionary knowledge, you need to take an honest, scientific approach.”

    Do you seriously not see how you’re smack in the middle of doing exactly what I suggested? The scientific process does not involve fallacies, therefore we should accept anything produced via the scientific process?

    But the real problem, and exactly what I’m talking about, is your last sentence: “if you really want to dispute our body of evolutionary knowledge, you need to take an honest, scientific approach.” Define what you mean by “honest, scientific approach?” Because what most people mean by “scientific” is strict, empirical naturalism. News flash: this epistemology/metaphysics is completely beyond the realm of science to prove or disprove and I’m not particularly inclined to accept it, especially as a Bible-believing Christ-follower (Christian, evangelical, whatever the term du jour is). Seems to me the Scriptures do an awful lot of implying that there is reality beyond the empirical and certainly beyond the natural.

    In short: I do not dispute the body of evolutionary knowledge collected and interpreted in the context of your “honest, scientific approach.” Within that context it is relatively indisputable, which is why I don’t fault most people for accepting it. I dispute your implied assertion/assumption that your “honest, scientific approach” is the most valid (if not only) means of understanding reality.

  • Tim

    Rapha (#46),

    In generic terms, you seem to be arguing the following:

    1) Theory A makes sense of a certain body of evidence.

    2) Some alternative theory, say, Theory B would also make sense of the evidence. Or perhaps some Theory C that is not yet discovered.

    3) Therefore, the evidence does not support Theory A, it is merely consistent with Theory A.

    Thus your argument of “begging the question.”

    (To anyone else, is this starting to sound a lot like presuppositionalism on steroids?)

    The problem with this argument is that the scientific support we have for evolution makes ABSOLUTELY NO sense from any other plausible framework, supernatural or otherwise. So inferentially reasoning up, only one pattern emerges. No one has ever been able to demonstrate any other possible or even remotely conceivable explanation.

    For instance:

    Assume God created the Earth 6,000 – 10,000 years ago and populated all life on Earth at the beginning.

    It doesn’t make sense of the evidence.

    Assume God created the Earth billions of years ago but only populated it recently with life, say in the past several/tens of thousands of years ago.

    It doesn’t make sense of the evidence.

    Assume that God created the Earth billions of years ago and initiated a myriad of creative events throughout time on this planet. Something like Day-Age creationism.

    It doesn’t make sense of the evidence.

    Assume that God created all life on Earth at some non-designated prior time, flooded it in the past 10,000 years or so, and had each “kind” of animal preserved on an arc with rapid diversification after they returned to terra firma.

    It doesn’t make sense of the evidence.

    Imagine that God allowed every type of life on Earth to evolve but specially created humans some point in the past 10,000 years, or even 200,000 years.

    It doesn’t make sense of the evidence.

    Imagine God set out to fool us into thinking that all life on Earth shared common ancestry by planting fossils in the earth progressing from basic, primitive forms in the earliest layers and more modern forms in the more recent layers, with transitional specimens linking throughout, planting psuedogenes and relics of past retroviral infections in our DNA, arranging the biogeographic distribution of life across our planet – all to mimic what one might expect from evolution.

    OK, this one supernatural explanation makes sense of the evidence. But it’s the ONLY one anyone has been able to demonstrate doesn’t result in massive improbabilities in our evidential picture in the life sciences.

    So, what we have right now is:

    Theory A: Macro Evolution/Common Descent happened.
    Theory B: God planted evidence to fool us.

    If you can think of any others that have empirical support, I’d love to hear them Rapha.

  • Paul D.

    ‘Define what you mean by “honest, scientific approach?”’

    Science relies on falsifiable hypotheses and theories with predictive value. If you want to dispute evolutionary theories in a valid manner, come up with an alternative and falsifiable hypothesis that makes different predictions from evolution (say, regarding what fossils might be found in which geologic layer), and test it.

    When it comes to predicting and explaining discoveries made by palaeontology and biology, evolutionary theory is compelling. That’s why I’ve changed my mind on the matter of Genesis being a literally accurate creation narrative.

    ‘I dispute your implied assertion/assumption that your “honest, scientific approach” is the most valid (if not only) means of understanding reality.’

    I didn’t say that. I said it was the most (or only) valid means of disputing evolution.

    ‘this epistemology/metaphysics is completely beyond the realm of science to prove or disprove and I’m not particularly inclined to accept it,’

    You’ve totally lost me there.