Out of Egypt? … Say What? (RJS)

Out of Egypt? … Say What? (RJS) February 16, 2012

Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan and a self proclaimed evangelical (because there is no other kind), posted 10 Reasons to Believe in a Historical Adam on the Gospel Coalition website last week.

His post has, I am sure, many supporters and has drawn some response from those who are less sympathetic. Pete Enns posted his thoughts on DeYoung’s reasons, as did James McGrath. I don’t want to repeat their comments here or add many of my own. None of DeYoung’s reasons are particularly novel, they are arguments that we’ve discussed in the context of a something like four dozen posts over the last several years (look under Adam in the Science and Faith Archive for many of these posts). A number of DeYoung’s reasons came up in our discussion of C. John Collins’s book Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. In fact, Collins is sympathetic with several of the reasons DeYoung gives (and less sympathetic with others, although DeYoung still recommends the book).

In this post I would like to focus in on two of DeYoung’s reasons:

5. The genealogies in 1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3 treat Adam as historical.

6. Paul believed in a historical Adam.

… and pose them as questions, not to debunk or ridicule them, but to continue the conversation.

Does it matter that Luke 3 treats Adam as historical? If so, why?

Does it matter that Paul believed in a historical Adam? If so, why?

There are generally several lines of thought behind these reasons. I think it likely, as does Peter Enns, that Paul and Luke both thought Adam was a historical individual and that he was progenitor of the human race, or at least of Israel. Paul was a first century Jew familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. As far as I can tell he would have no reason to have questioned the historicity of Adam. I doubt that God cleansed him of his misconceptions about cosmology or biology or history before inspiring him to preach, teach, and write about Jesus Christ. The historicity of Adam may or may not fall into this category.

Luke was a first century Christian and, whether Jew or Gentile, he too would have no reason to question the historicity of Adam. He certainly knew scripture and used the genealogies recorded in Chronicles and Genesis to construct his genealogy of Jesus.

But the veracity of scripture is at stake. I have heard the argument put this way at times: Genesis 1-11 shows literary evidence of story and appropriation of and restructuring on Ancient Near Eastern myths. Even Origen as early as the first half of the third century commented on the figurative and literary elements of Genesis as he responded to the criticisms of Celsus (an ancient Dawkins it appears). But Luke and Paul settled the matter for Christians. In the inspired text of the New Testament we have clear confirmation that Adam is a unique historical individual, first in the lineage of Jesus. Failure to interpret Adam as a historical individual invalidates the message of Luke concerning Jesus and undermines the authority of scripture.

To what extent though, does an Old Testament allusion in the  New Testament constrain the interpretation of the Old Testament?

As an amateur reader of scripture one passage has long shaped my approach to these questions.

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Mt. 2:14-15)

Many times when growing up I heard teachers and preachers extoll the way God fulfilled His prophecy, giving us confidence in His power, His faithfulness and His Son. In this passage Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1, of course he neglects the first part of the phrase and the entire context of the passage.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,  and out of Egypt I called my son.  But the more they were called,  the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals  and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,  taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. “Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? (Hosea 11:1-5)

This certainly doesn’t seem like a Messianic prophecy, or for that matter, anything other than a description of Israel and a reference to the Exodus.

Does the use of Hosea by Matthew demand that we read this as a Messianic prophecy? Is the veracity of scripture at stake if we do not? Does failure to find this a Messianic prophecy invalidate the place of Jesus as Messiah?

This is a passage I had wrangled with long before reading Inspiration and Incarnation, as bored with a message I perused the notes and cross references in my Bible (no wonder the church is turning to scripture projected in tight little bits on a screen). But it also comes as no surprise that the passage is dealt with in the chapter on The Old Testament and Its Interpretation in the New Testament.

Hosea’s point here is that Israel is God’s child, his son, and he loved him. So he delivered him from Egypt. But, in return, the Israelites turned to idolatry. This passage is not predictive of Christ’s coming but retrospective of Israel’s disobedience.

It would take a tremendous amount of mental energy to argue that Matthew is respecting the historical context of Hosea’s words, that is, there is actually something predictive in Hosea 11. (p. 133)

So why did Matthew use Hosea this way? We will never know for sure, But some things are clear. Enns puts it like this:

Matthew was motivated by his conviction that Christ is the focus of Scripture … It is because Matthew knew that Jesus was the Christ that he also knew that all Scripture speaks of him. (p. 134)

Likewise Paul and Luke knew Jesus, and they knew that all Scripture speaks of him. They knew, as we should know also today, that Jesus as God’s Messiah is the culmination of God’s work in the redemption of Israel and of all mankind. Luke uses the genealogy to make this point. Jesus, descended from David, and thus from all Israel back to the beginning, is God’s Messiah. Whether Luke thought Genesis and Adam were literal historical accounts or not plays no substantive role in his use of the text. He would have used the text in the same manner either way. And, as Matthew illustrates, the veracity of the New Testament message is not constrained by the use made of specific Old Testament texts. There is a broader Christological message that underpins the New Testament, and this is where we place our faith.

The question of Paul, at least in some of the passages, is more problematic. Not because Paul believed or didn’t believe Adam was historical. I don’t think that makes any real difference at all. But rather it is more problematic because there may (or may not) be a more significant connection between Paul’s knowledge of Jesus and the way he ties this to Adam. And this will leads us to a discussion of the next section of The Evolution of Adam. But even here the message and use of Scripture is completely Christ centered. After all Paul told Timothy:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

I expect there are many who disagree with much, or even all that I’ve said. And perhaps even some who are left spinning with the leap from Matthew to Luke and Paul, trying to find the point. So what do you think?

What should we learn from the way Matthew, Luke, Paul, or other New Testament writers use or allude to the Old Testament?

What is your underlying assumption about scripture?

Do you agree with DeYoung? Why or why not?

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

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