Review of C. John Collins’s “Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?”

Review of C. John Collins’s “Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?” December 30, 2011

Here is a link to the December 2011 issue of the online journal, Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought. It contains a review by me of C. John Collins’s Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They are and Why You Should Care (Crossway, 2011).

Collins and I spoke at the same event in October (gathering of pastors in NYC). Collins is thoughtful, well-spoken, and articulate, but we certainly saw matters very differently. Those differences are laid out more clearly here in this review.

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  • RJS

    Nice review. In part because of some of the issues you highlight his book was good material for discussion.

    I am looking forward to discussing your new book as well.

    • peteenns

      Thanks, RJS.

  • Beth D

    Very interesting.

    First of all, I have to say that there is no ‘compelling’ evidence for evolution. What might it be? If there were such evidence, regular people would be able to observe and agree, even if they can’t understand exactly how it works. Right now the theory can only be evaluated through the minds of evolutionary biology PhD’s (according to you, Dr Enns) and their consensus. This is exactly why there is so much debate: no empirics for the folks. And the reality is that the facts could easily lead to the opposite conclusion. Most people understand that DNA is a code; not a rudimentary binary but a 4 point with millions to billions of base pairs. Where do all codes in our experiential existence originate? And there you go…

    I don’t know why I keep reading this blog because I disagree with most of it but I have to ask this question: Why is this so important? So what if Adam evolved? How does that change the idea that God is responsible for the Creation, whatever the technicalities may be. Just curious.

    • peteenns

      Beth, the reason you keep coming back to my blog is because I am amazing. I thought that was obvious by now.

      You’re last paragraph is very much where I am. The reason I keep talking about it is so people don’t feel there is only one way to think about Adam, only to find betters ways and then think they have to abandon their faith.

      As to your first paragraph, to quote Ronald Reagan, “there you go again,” insisting that you should be able to see proof of evolution without training to know what to look for.

      • Beth D

        Appreciate your sense of humility… I mean humor! :0

        If people can’t see any evidence of a particular theory, they cannot they be expected to take it seriously or rework it into their theology. That is unreasonable and illogical. Paradigm shift is not likely to occur.

        A symbolic Adam would not be a reason to abandon the faith. Do you see a literal Adam requiring abandonment of the faith? Both a symbolic and literal interpretation have their hairy areas which necessitate some measure of finessing.

        • Beth D

          How about this:

          Evolution (capital E – as in comprehensive explanation for the development of life by completely naturalistic means) *can* act a barrier to faith in the same way that rigidly requiring a literal Adam *can* act as a barrier to faith…

          So what’s a faith to do?

          • peteenns

            Sure, I’ll buy that. “Can” is the key, as you point out.

        • peteenns

          Beth, every single day of our existence we all “take seriously” things we cannot possibly comprehend and have to rely on experts to do–for starters, the English Bible you you read was translated and edited by panels of experts that, by their linguistic training, have alienated themselves from 99% of the world’s population.

          • Beth D

            Yes, what you say is very true: every single day in all kinds of ways we take things seriously that we do not understand *but* we see the material effects of the highly technical explanation (wish I had italics for that phrase!) It’s that way for quantum physics, Einstein’s theories on relativity, computer technology, medical science, and so on and so on, and so on. Evolutionary science is no different. If only about 1000 people in the world can understand it or explain how it happens, this does not qualify as ‘compelling’ and people cannot be expected to ‘buy in’, especially when you consider the fossil record and the fact that DNA is information. What is the origin of information?

            My Bible was translated by a panel of experts, and I have no skills in that area but those experts are by no means the only source of evaluation. Look how many different translation there are and how many different places, especially now with the internet, you can go to form your own opinions and ideas on the translations. Do you know the Septuagint may contain ‘errors’? I do not speak Aramaic of Greek or whatever it’s written in :-0

            I’m glad to hear you say that about Adam/Evolution. I am now freed to disbelieve Evolution as a comprehensive explanation for the development of life and believe in a literal Adam, while still keeping my faith – if not my intellect.

            Happy New Year Dr Enns! And thank you very much for publishing my dissenting remarks.

          • peteenns

            Beth, You’ve always been free to reject scientific truth and keep your faith 🙂

    • Beth D – I would be interested to know what you would consider ‘compelling’ evidence for evolution? There are certainly myriad ‘regular people’ who consider the evidence from cosmology, astronomy, physics, geology and the various sub-disciplines of biology and find that small change over time [evolution] is the best explanation of the data. While in one life-span we cannot observe macro-evolution, but we can observe micro-evolution in the lab and in every-day life, e.g. flu viruses. And the mechanisms are the same; only the time span differs. I would suggest that you spend some time at Answers in Creation – lots of good information re Old Earth Creationism including evolution. Click on More Topics.

  • Norman


    Overall I tend to agree more with your assessment but I as usual tend to quibble a little with some of your suppositions as well. I’ll list some of my thoughts which some you may agree and some not.

    First I do think that there is the possibility that mythological stories may have a better fit with the Adam and Eve story than we may realize. I like to remind that the origins of Rome using the mythological narrative of Romulus and Remus cannot be dismissed as not having a historical origin of some kind in a practical sense. In other words Rome was started historically somehow by someone. Having stated that, I also believe the Gen 1-11 accounts bear much more theological nuance in their intent than toward a historical purpose. I’m not sure therefore that we can say that early Genesis didn’t represent some kind of “limited and narrow” Origin story denoting a historical beginning envisioned through the Adam character. Yet it’s likely not strictly biologically intended but more theological or covenantal driven. I don’t think the Jews in their writing concerned themselves as much with historical details as we would like to think they should have, they simply had their own agenda not ours.

    I would suggest then that the origin story is something of a concise metanarrative for their worldview as they perceived. It appears to be grounded more upon Israel’s theological issues and problems with priestly governance as typologically portrayed through the Cain and Abel conflict and the flood judgment account against corrupt rulers. In fact this is indeed how some of the Jewish second Temple literature picks upon and exploits these early Genesis story lines.

    Another theme found in early Genesis consist of Israel following the “fleshly” or weak human nature of the Law” having its origins in the individual they named as Adam/man which was in covenant with God. In Genesis and the OT the Nations represented other “fleshly” means that derived similar to Adam’s corruption denoted as an imperfect walk with YHWY ending in spiritual death or separation. In other words Adam represents not only Judaism in the “flesh/human nature” but also possibly denotes or infers an image of all the Pagan fleshly Nations gone astray.

    Paul is also possibly referring to this concept of “sin” being ascribed to all men through Adam by this grand theme of origins yet it is certainly up for grabs whether Paul considered this as a literal representation of all humanity. This can be seen in that Paul allegorizes Gen 2:24 in his discussion in Eph 5 of Christ and the church and his spiritualizing death in Eph 2 and several other NT places. It is very problematic then to declare that Paul’s definition of his discussion of “death” and “sin” in Rom 5 should be taken as literally as we are often inclined. We sometimes tend to hang our concepts of Paul on one limited verse whose understood context is questionable at best when viewed through an overall Pauline theology.

    Genesis 1-11 may simply be a concise comfortable way of illustrating history to explain in simple terms the problems of the world’s religions based upon mortal man thus the need for the spiritual last Adam. I think Gen 1-11 is much more about contemporary issues concerning Exilic Israel and her future than about her past. You see this played out in the way that second temple literature takes the Adam and Eve accounts and the flood narratives and run with them to reinforce the messianic events that are expected to transpire eventually.

    Therefore Adam possibly represents an origin beginning and the corruption that followed including Israel’s and the Nations as well. That is essentially the story of the Flood which is used throughout the NT reflecting judgment upon Judaism and the Law and judgment upon the Nations. All “flesh” will be destroyed as stated in Gen 6 is therefore likely a typological story line prophetically pointing toward an end to Israel’s life in the “flesh” at the time of messiah. The Jews just appropriated ANE historical events which suited their purpose and worked them in a manner that fostered their purpose. This theme of the “flesh” is picked up significantly in the NT by Paul concerning the “end of flesh”. Flesh then simply again becomes a Pauline metaphor to describe a less than spiritual or heavenly approach to God such as Israel after the flesh or the Nations after their pagan flesh. Here is just one of many of Paul’s examples of using “flesh” as a metaphor to describe human weakness in knowing God.

    Eph 2:11 Therefore remember that you, the nations, in time past were in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;

    The Genesis account below then is very possibly a prophetic piece subtly directed toward Israel’s rulers and the Nations by its authors. It was likely comprised around the time frame of the exilic period of the Jews reflecting the sentiments of much of the other OT authors who wrote extensively against what was considered the false and corrupt Priestly rulers. This priestly corruption issue was a theme that continued throughout Second Temple Judaism culminating in the fulfillment of the messianic coming. It (Gen 2-11) is very similar to language and themes we find in Ezekiel except it’s formed around ancient narratives which possibly serve much more than a historical account as we possibly mistake it for. These issues found in Genesis are found in Deut 30-32 in a more direct prophecy and are attributed to Moses, lending credibility to its importance as a warning to Israel.

    Gen 6:13 And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

    So IMO until we have defined Genesis purpose better for its place and intent concerning Jewish prophecy we may be misapplying concepts that were simply veiled proclamations against Israel’s corruption. We likely over read this literature just as one might be tempted to over read the Enoch story lines of the 2nd and 3rd Century BC which spins off these earlier accounts or even the 4 Ezra account of Adam possibly written very late in second Temple Judaism. If we don’t over literalize the story we might pick up the general theme more readily. We could take a little insight from Philo of Alexandria in understanding how to read Hebrew literature which appears that Paul very possibly did.

    Second Temple Judaism’s use of Adam as a real character is also problematic at best. It seems common for this literature to use ancient figures like Adam in their literature as a means of retelling Israel’s narrative and problematic future. The Enoch literature likewise is also a prime example of using an ancient Genesis character and then builds a narrative around him. I doubt that the Jews who wrote the Enoch literature considered they were writing a real historical narrative about Enoch. 4 Ezra is another account of Jewish appropriation of historical characters used to illustrate a theological theme. I also doubt that those who received this literature originally took it literally as well but recognized its mediums veiled and prophetic intent. I would therefore question whether Paul would have taken Enoch or Genesis as literal as we suppose. So it’s highly debatable that we can state for certain that the contemporary Adam stories that pervade that era’s literature would be understood in the manner we want to ascribe wholesale to the NT audience. I think this is especially true for Paul who points out the allegorical nature of scripture and stories from the OT and quite often uses “death” as a metaphor.

    While I agree with your premise that Adam was not a literal historical figure as construed by the Hebrews I do think He does indeed ultimately “represent” historical elements concerning the origins of Judaism under the Law as well as recognizing humanity that surrounded Israel proclivity for their own corrupt means of idolatrous worshiping. I also think that there is good evidence within OT, NT and second Temple and early Christian literature that emphasizes that Adam was more covenantally tied to Israel than to the Nations. The offshoots of all the other genealogies of the OT seem to be stories that end up being about Nations and these stories often illustrate negative attributes to these Nations that illustrate their perversions or idolatrous ways. The stories although tied to Israel through characters with intimate contact are simply constructs to tell story and relate this intimate relation of Israel and the surrounding Nations. Many of these stories are likely similar constructs like the Romulus and Remus story of Rome and helped illustrate the metanarrative of Israel. They may not often be literally true but serve a purpose in the reality of Israel’s story and are illustrated through their own proprietary medium of literature.

    By the way I’m waiting in anticipation for the release of your new book which I preordered a couple of months ago. I’m sure I will not be disappointed.


  • Yeah, pretty good, Peter. I especially liked the parts re 1) Second Temple Judaism and 2) typology (The Biblical Story).

    1. I think this raises the issue of development within the religion of Israel–how and when it became Judaism–and in particular the degree to which it became ideologized.

    2. The use of typology raises the question, how central is typology to Christianity? Yes, we know that it’s important to Paul, but is there a distinction that can and should be made between theological speculation–even in NT authors–and core Christian beliefs? If so, the role of typology becomes important. Benedict XVI, to take one prominent Christian, seems to think that typology is integral to Christian belief, which raises all those issues of historicity that you raise in your review. OTOH, it’s not at all clear that typology is as important to Jesus–an even more prominent Christian–as it was to Paul and the Fathers. Perhaps that’s an example, a very early example, of Christian belief being “inculturated .”

    • peteenns

      Interesting point about typology, Mark. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Can you flesh out more how typology is inculturated?

  • shaun

    You mentioned you met Dr Collins and spoke together. That is what this origins debate needs. Writing and reviewing books is nessesary. But what really needs to happen is educated people need to sit down face to face and have a discussion.

  • Here in the West we’re used to thinking of inculturation as something that happens in Third World places (Jesuits in China, Day of the Dead in Mexico, stuff in the Caribbean and Brazil, etc.) or purely benign “cultural” things, like Christmas trees. However, I think that it’s a useful concept to apply to early as well as later Christianity.

    For example, typology. Typology doesn’t seem to loom very largely in the words of Jesus, at least not when he’s presented as speaking in his own voice. On the other hand, typological modes of expression were quite common in Second Temple Judaism, and Paul (as many scholars have pointed out) regularly expresses himself in ways that reflect that cultural/intellectual background. Would it not be helpful for analysis to look at these forms of expression as culturally conditioned (inculturated) theologizing rather than creedal type expressions of faith–and the same could perhaps be said when the evangelists are speaking in their own voices.

    This distinction would certainly not be foreign to Paul. When he informs his flocks that he is passing on what was handed down to him–and these are matters that clearly touch on basic beliefs–we hear nothing about Adam or other types of typology. Nor is this surprising. Scholars have long connected what Paul handed on to the beliefs common to early Christians that appear to have their origin in Jesus himself. Paul’s letters appear to be focused not so much on matters of the creed but on questions of how to live the faith that he has handed on. In that context Paul is perfectly ready to draw distinctions between “words of the Lord” and “words” that are “not of the Lord.” But there are many things that Paul has to say that come without such labels attached: headwear in assemblies for women, proxy baptism, argumentation regarding the significance of Jesus’ resurrection, and argumentation that draws upon typology and other forms common in Second Temple Judaic thought. Is all this to be taken as creedal statements of belief, integral to Christian faith, or is Paul theologizing in an “inculturated” way? Or must each instance be evaluated individually?

    In my initial comment, I referred to the “ideologization” of Israelite religion. Part of that process undoubtedly included the process by which various Israelite writings came to be regarded by Israelites at large as “scripture.” A key question for Christians thinking about inculturation is, to what extent is the Christian use of the symbol “scripture” an inculturation of Second Temple modes of thought and to what extent is it integral to Christian faith? Jesus’ own views regarding “scripture,” the use he makes of it, are, IMO, instructive.

    These considerations simply reflect the facts of human nature as we know it–human beings “think” by means of imagery (or as Schroedinger is reported to have said after expressing sub atomic particles in an equation, “I still think of them as ping pong balls.”). It’s a condition of human nature and we use it in myth, novels and movies. It’s unsurprising that Christian thinkers should also do so in their theologizing–problems only arise when these forms of expression are mistaken for creedal propositions (“Adam was a really existing historical figure”). I think Chesterton’s discussion of myth and Christianity in The Everlasting Man is well worth considering (or reconsidering) in light of this discussion generally.

    I should also add that my reference to Benedict XVI’s address at Regensburg was not chosen at random. In his address Benedict is reflecting views that are widespread throughout Christianity, but which beg for analysis from the standpoint of inculturation. Throughout his address it’s clear that Benedict regards as normative for Christian faith the forms of expression that have come down to us through the “Fathers” (desert dwellers as well as those who led more urbane lives). Those views are, as Etienne Gilson (among many others) noted in his monumental history of Christian philosophy, heavily Neoplatonic in tenor, and “the Neoplatonism of the Fathers” has been mediated to the West through the Augustinian tradition that has been and remains the dominant intellectual tradition of the West. My view is that the traditional dichotomy of “Greek reason and Hebrew faith” is seriously misleading and that we should, instead, be evaluating these traditions in terms of the inculturation of Greek forms of thought to Christian faith–a process the results of which have not been uniformly benign.

    I know I’ve gone on at some length, but I hope anyone who reads this will bear in mind that–in my mind–I’ve barely scratched the surface of these very important issues.

  • Beth wrote:

    So what if Adam evolved? How does that change the idea that God is responsible for the Creation, whatever the technicalities may be. Just curious.

    I think the larger issue than evolution is the question of the many problems that arise from literal readings of Genesis, and especially the whole “apple” story. That has had a huge influence on Christian theology, and still does–as is particularly the case with the doctrine of “original” sin. For example…

    Back in 1995 Cardinal Avery Dulles wrote a lengthy analysis of the Catholic Church’s new catechism, discussing some of the considerations that came up during its formulation. I quote these passages to give some idea of the type of intellectual reexaminations that are going on behind the scenes:

    The doctrine of original sin caused particular difficulty, and was studied at length by a special commission. In the past fifty years numerous theologians have proposed ways of updating the traditional teaching, which relied heavily on contestable interpretations of the creation narratives in Genesis and of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Like many modern theologians the Catechism interprets original sin in a Christological framework as the “reverse side” of redemption (389), but, unlike some, it adheres for the most part to the Augustinian positions that have long been dominant in the West and that were reaffirmed by Paul VI in a speech of 1966. As Schonborn says in this connection, “It cannot be the task of the Catechism to represent novel theories which do not belong to the assured patrimony of the faith.” A close reading of the Catechism shows that the authors were aware of the figurative language of the biblical accounts and do not impose a literalist understanding of the Genesis stories about Adam and Eve. It remains the task of religious educators and theologians to show how certain traditional formulations, repeated in the Catechism, may be subject to reinterpretation in the light of modern science and exegesis.

    • peteenns

      Very helpful, Mark.

    • Beth D

      Thanks for that Mark. It does help and I agree with the thoughts.

      It seems you’re talking about Catholic vs Protestant exegesis (I don’t really know what that word means). Anyway, the distinction is generally made between ‘original sin’ and ‘sin nature’. Catholic theology teaches the entrance of ‘original sin’ upon Adam’s fall and Protestants understand this to be the reality of the ‘Sin Nature’ now that the human Creation Fell, correct?

      Question for you or Dr Enns: How does Evolution or a symbolic Adam change the doctrine of “Sin Nature”? (that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God)

      • peteenns

        Beth, that’s in my book, and I am going to make you buy it a read it from the beginning. he he

        • Beth D

          I am slowly realizing that that was your goal all along. It’s in my Amazon cart right now.

  • Glad it was of some use. Tx.

    These issues are obviously complex and are being treated quite gingerly. I should add that Dulles’ treatment of two important issues (the overall policy followed in drawing up the Catechism, and the treatment of scripture in the Catechism) is of questionable merit but, again, reflects the conflicts (and “practical” considerations) that surround these core issues. Much more could be said. For example, compare Benedict’s treatment of scripture in the Forward (or whatever it’s termed) to Jesus of Nazareth with Dulles’ remarks. 15 years after the Catechism came out, Benedict quite forthrightly states that the historical critical method is fundamental, yet his ambivalence–no doubt fueled by his Augustinianism–is everywhere apparent. He seems not totally convinced that the historical critical method can be integrated into what he takes Christian faith to be, yet he sees no real alternative.

    Re the Augustinian approach to original sin, I suppose that could be viewed as inculturation of Christian faith to Manichaeism–one could hardly call it a “baptizing” of Manichaean belief. For most believers it may seem like an arcane topic, yet its implications for nature/grace have bedeviled Western thought for 1500 years (give or take a century or so). Arianism, too, could be viewed as a type of inculturation. Again, big topics.

  • Beth D

    Mark, you are way too smart. I have no idea what you are talking about!

  • It seems you’re talking about Catholic vs Protestant exegesis…

    I really don’t think so. In fact, although I am Catholic, my favorite writers on scriptural topics are mostly Protestants of one sort or another, in the vein of people like N. T. Wright. Interestingly, Wright bills himself as a “critical realist.” What that means is that from a philosophical standpoint–and that’s the standpoint that he uses to justify his overall approach–he follows a form of Thomism. I know that he must have some acquaintance with the “transcendental” (ugh) Thomism of Bernard Lonergan, but I’m not sure how deeply he understands the distinctions among the various strands of thought that claim to be Thomistic in some sense. That’s a specialist field all unto itself. Nevertheless, I think his strong philosophical background is part of what lends solidity to his work.

    the distinction is generally made between ‘original sin’ and ‘sin nature’.

    Sorry, I’m not at all up on those distinctions.

    Beth, that’s in my book …

    … It’s in my Amazon cart right now.

    Beth, I’ll have to read it too. I’ll be particularly interested to see whether Peter follows out some of my concerns/obsessions. Re original sin, I’ve been particularly interested in W. D. Davies’ observations regarding Second Temple Jewish interpretations of sin and human nature, as well as the teaching of both the early Christians as well as the later Fathers.

    The book description at Amazon states: “Enns demonstrates that the author of Genesis and the apostle Paul wrote to ask and answer ancient questions for ancient people…” Sounds very promising.

  • Beth D

    I don’t have a theology degree but I’m going to give this a try.

    Original Sin is the idea that all people, from the moment of their human existence, are intrinsically guilty because of Adam’s sin. Baptism removes Original Sin from the human soul and bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit. I was taught in CCD that babies who die before they are baptized go to Limbo. I’m sure this has changed but that was the teaching of the times (70’s) – example of ‘inculturation’?

    Sin Nature says that because of Adam’s sin, all humanity is born with the irresistible urge/desire to sin. Sin entered the world and the human heart with Adam (whether he was a type or an actual person). We have all been ‘infected’ by it so it is not a matter of if we will sin but when. Protestant theology generally teaches some sort of “age of Accountability”, which is probably differs between individuals, but would be the point at which a child can be held accountable for his choices. Children who die under the Age of Accountability go on to eternity.

    I can’t imagine Dr Enns messes too much with Sin Nature that because it is a major deal — Romans 3:23. No one is righteous, not one… All have sinned. Whatever you think about Adam, I don’t see how Sin Nature could change but I certainly don’t doubt the creativity of Dr Enns!

  • Beth, I think the distinction you’re making, or that others make, between OS/SN are really ways of expressing the same view of the “Fall.” So, many Catholics would say, as they were taught, that an “effect” of OS was a tendency to sin–which sounds like SN to me. For my part, I see most of this type of speculation stemming from a misguided literal reading of Genesis, based on faulty understandings of the nature and intent of scriptural writings–are they textbooks of moral or systematic theology or are they something different (as Peter appears to be saying)? Limbo, to me, was simply a theological construct intended to mitigate the more outrageous implications of the Augustinian doctrine of OS–that God condemns unbaptized infants to the fires of hell. Benedict’s document re Limbo–concerning which there’s a good discussion in Wikipedia–is, at least in part, a recognition that these Augustinian conceptions are no longer widely accepted. Benedict has made that clear in public statements he has made re OS. Here’s the key paragraph re Limbo:

    Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered above give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision. We emphasize that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge. There is much that simply has not been revealed to us. We live by faith and hope in the God of mercy and love who has been revealed to us in Christ, and the Spirit moves us to pray in constant thankfulness and joy.

    I like the emphasis (also in the Catechism) on Jesus as revelation in the primary sense, and on the necessity of faith. Really, that’s like a call to humility as well as for restraint in the exercise of Man’s seemingly irresistible (!) urge to speculate. The larger point from all this is that the question of just what teachings are truly integral to Christian faith–once you get past the Creed, the Liturgy and Sacraments and the Church–is more nuanced than is often popularly supposed.

    Back to S/N. I think that conception is very obviously Augustinian in origin, as is true of much of Protestant theology. There also seems to be a certain kinship to Jewish conceptions–regarding which, check out the link I provided, above. The Jewish idea is simply that in human nature we find both good and bad tendencies, and Man is free to choose. Developing a habitual tendency to do what is good (“virtues”) is key to a good life. I think you’ll find this doctrine not only in Paul’s writings but also in the Gospels and the words of Jesus. Ultimately, I think it’s based on the fairly common sense idea that just as the infinitely perfect God cannot create a square circle, neither can he create a finite being (Man) which is perfectly good–a finite being is by definition limited and therefore imperfect in some sense. To me, this is a sufficient explanation of sin in the world, as well as of Man’s need for salvation. Yes, all have sinned. Even the good man. But mistaking the Genesis narratives for historical accounts only gets in the way of a proper understanding of human nature.

  • Beth D

    Thanks Mark!

    How does Genesis as historical narrative get in the way of a proper understanding of human nature?

  • Norman

    Original sin and/or the sin nature often gets wrapped up in a Greek philosophical background instead of investigated from the Hebrew biblical perspective. It’s very difficult to sort this out when we limit ourselves to poor translations, especially in regards to the NIV in Romans. Sin from Paul’s perspective often appears to be framed from the Garden perspective and what happened to Adam there. That perspective may be helpfully illustrated by this statement from Hosea 6 where we see that Israel in Covenant is likewise compared to Adam in regard to covenant.

    Hos 6:7 But they like Adam have transgressed the covenant:

    Adam by being placed in the Garden entered into covenant with God like Israel did. The mistake however is often made in trying to infer that Adam was the headship of physical humanity when the Jews often tended to see him more as the head of covenantal humanity in relationship to God. This is reflected plainly in the early Christian piece of literature called “the book of Adam and Eve” where it becomes clearer that Adam is seen as having direct ties to Israel much more than to humanity at large.

    “7 But before that, GOD HAD MADE THIS COVENANT WITH OUR FATHER, ADAM, IN THE SAME TERMS, before he came out of the garden, when he was by the tree where Eve took of the fruit and gave it to him to eat.”

    In fact in Rom 5:13 Paul states that “sin” was in the world before Adam was given the first covenant commandment but it “sin” is not accounted for until the commandment/law was given. The “sin” specific to the original Garden then according to Paul manifests itself because of Satan and the establishment specifically of Law. Satan being the “broker” of the Law, uses it to deceive those who shouldn’t have sin counted against them while in the Garden. Christ and the Apostles point out that the Legalistic Priest of the Jews were offspring of their father Satan because they continue the deception of holding on to the Law that Christ came to remove. They fulfill the same role of the deceiving serpent by implying that “you will not die” by continuing to eat of that forbidden fruit. The forbidden fruit was attempting self-righteousness via works instead of trusting God in the Garden.

    The Book of Adam and Eve continues on with it storied illustrated commentary unfolding how this issue will be resolved.

    Chp 14: 2 But God the Lord said to Adam, “Indeed I say to you, this darkness will pass from you, every day I have determined for you, until the fulfillment of My covenant; when I will save you and BRING YOU BACK AGAIN INTO THE GARDEN, into the HOUSE OF LIGHT you long for, in which there IS NO DARKNESS*. I will bring you to it — in the kingdom of heaven.”

    We can also recognize the limited scope of “the sin” that Paul deals with if we also keep in mind that those outside of the covenant of God (which Adam’s description doesn’t fit) are not part of the discussion unless and until they come or seek covenant with God also.

    Eph 2:12 that ye were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and STRANGERS FROM THE COVENANTS of the promise, having NO HOPE AND WITHOUT GOD in the world.
    Adam in the Garden then is a fall from faith pursuing covenant standing only, and thus “the sin” is a covenant relational sin specifically. Outside the covenant the issue is a moot point because from a Hebrew perspective one is outside of God’s presence. The story of Adam and Israel was about how to go about getting back into the presence of God that was expected of a God fearing faithful people. It was not about “sin” concerning those who don’t seek or know God. That issued is rectified simply by seeking to walk with God.
    aul again reinforces this ide in his continuing discussion in Romans 7:9 when he again states while speaking as Adam/Israel corporately that “I was alive before the commandment/law came”.

    “The Sin” was a problem because Adam and Israel got dropped back again into the world of Darkness (outside God’s Presence) when they attempted to handle their meritorious works instead of depending upon God. Christ alleviated this issue by ridding us once and for all of the old covenant with its written code and reinstating Garden life for the faithful through Grace and faith in the faithful one.

    Col 2:13-14 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

    Sin thus was a covenant issue for God’s people which was a structural problem established under the Law. That arrangement manifested itself in what is called an “explicit sin” for God fearing people. To discuss “sin” that resides outside of Covenant life with God we have to enter into another realm of discussion that essentially corresponds with Mark’s discussion above which he lays out nicely. Until you realize that the definition of “sin” sits in two different levels for the Hebrew Apostles theologically we run the risk of mixing the issues up when we read Paul’s analysis.

    If we realize that we faithful are walking in Garden life now with our sins covered then we might have a picture of the biblical scene from which Adam fell from and appears Paul understood was restored through Christ. That is what Romans especially 5-8 is all about; walking in the spirit from Christ instead of from the weakness of our own nature called the flesh.

    Rom 8:2-3 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. …

  • Ryan

    I am wondering if it might help to clarify the methodology you employ in studying the Bible, Dr. Enns. I am not a biblical scholar by any means; I am a mere M.Div. student. However, I sense that a great deal of the difference between you and your detractors lies not so much in your conclusions as in your methodology. For instance, you seem to indicate in I & I and elsewhere that our understanding of the Bible as the Word of God must come after we have done grammatical-historical exegesis (which would include what science tells us about human origins). You note that to do otherwise is to foist a view of the Bible onto the Bible that is actually unbiblical. Your opponents, however, believe that a doctrine of Scripture should be formulated before biblical studies and biblical studies should be guided by this understanding. They point out that we cannot come to the Bible neutrally, so our study of the Bible is going to be bracketed by some kind of background beliefs anyway. Thus they emphasize the testimony of the Holy Spirit in providing the Christian biblical scholar with the proper view of Bible.

    Currently, I am sitting on the fence. I see some good things and some bad things with both sides. I agree with you, Pete, that all too often Evangelicals have foisted a formulation of inerrancy onto the Bible (which is another methodological point; you and your opponents have very different understandings of what constitutes “error”). Yet I think many conservative scholars, especially in the Reformed camp, have pointed out that biblical studies cannot be conducted neutrally. All scholarship involves intuition, and intuition (especially concerning our notions of what is a probable/improbable interpretation) is conditioned culturally. You yourself have pointed this out with Paul in I & I. I really don’t think that we are much different today. And this isn’t merely conservative Evangelicals who are saying this. My entire historiography seminar in undergrad dealt with the way we approach texts and how no historian can come to a text neutrally. Yet, Evangelicals can abuse this insight. We cannot simply dismiss our opponents as coming from ungodly presuppositions (as so many theologians I know have done) and not critically assess their scholarship (or our own!).

    But in the last analysis, I do think that a Christian scholar addresses these issues from the point of view of faith, and therefore works with certain beliefs that the non-believing scholar does not work with. I would be interested to see you write on these issues at length.

  • How does Genesis as historical narrative get in the way of a proper understanding of human nature?

    Mistaking Genesis for an historical narrative has led to the idea that Man by his actions in history has somehow changed the human nature that God created–for example, has caused all men after “Adam” to be born with an “irresistible urge/desire to sin.” This is, in a weird but even more radical sort of way, similar to the idea that acquired traits can be inherited, or the Existentialist notion that Man invents his own nature. No finite creature with a limited nature can do that–we may wound our nature through sin, but we cannot change it. Only the infinite God can do that.

    The alternative, I suppose, would be to claim that after Adam sinned God himself changed human nature so that it would have an “irresistible urge/desire to sin.” But that opens up a whole ‘nuther can of worms.

    The Jews seem not to have made that mistake re Genesis and never developed a doctrine of OS (again, cf. the link above). Thus, their view of human nature–which, by the way, seems to have been shared by the early Christian writers for the better part of two centuries–is that Man is not somehow deformed. Rather, he is as God created him: imperfect because his nature is finite, limited, and thus liable to sinful impulses which he can choose to resist or to succumb to.

    From this standpoint the point of God’s self revelation in Jesus is to reveal God’s identity to us and to make it possible to enter into fellowship with God through faith in Jesus. This is the mystery of God’s love by which we hope to transform our lives in cooperation with his Spirit. The reference to “fellowship” I got from John Ziesler’s The Meaning of Righteousness in Paul: A Linguistic and Theological Enquiry. (I believe it was his doctoral dissertation.) Ziesler’s contention, which I agree with, is that in Paul’s writings the word we translate as “righteousness,” diakosune, is best understood as bringing one into fellowship with someone else–in this case, God.

    • Beth D

      Ryan, that was a great comment.

      Mark, the chicken or the egg thing (what came first – the sin or the Sin Nature?) is one of those areas we have to ‘nuance’, as you suggested earlier. I don’t think it can be completely explained or understood. I think you can say that God created Adam as a finite being knowing he would sin, although that was not his perfect will for Adam.

      Is a behavior or action ‘sin’ if you did not make a conscious choice to engage in it? That’ what OS vs SN speaks is about. OS says that yes, because of Adam’s sin, you are born guilty of sin; SN says although you are not born guilty, you will sin. You can choose to resist some impulses but you will not be able overcome them all.

      I seems as though you and I have the same basic understanding. I do believe Adam to be a literal person and I guess I see how that could lead to an OS conclusion but it certainly doesn’t have to, just like Evolution doesn’t have to mean someone must disbelieve in God.

      !!!!!!!Happy Birthday Dr Enns!!!!!!!

  • Is a behavior or action ‘sin’ if you did not make a conscious choice to engage in it? That’ what OS vs SN speaks is about. OS says that yes, because of Adam’s sin, you are born guilty of sin; SN says although you are not born guilty, you will sin. You can choose to resist some impulses but you will not be able overcome them all.

    I seems as though you and I have the same basic understanding.

    While I agree that you and I generally agree about the “human condition,” I think you should reconsider whether you really understand the Catholic position. And, believe me, I’m not blaming you. I don’t doubt that you may have been told in CCD that the Catholic Church teaches that we (descendants of Adam) “are born guilty of sin.” And, yes, there are theologians who have said that, but it’s certainly not what the Church teaches. In fact this understanding was challenged early on, despite the prestige of its chief proponent, Augustine. I don’t have time to get into the history–I’ve provided links to some of that already–but I would say that the official teaching of the Church, while expressed quite confusedly at times, amounts to what you’re saying and what I’ve been saying. For example…

    The Compendium of the Catechism says:

    Original … is a sin “contracted” by us not “committed”; it is a state of birth and not a personal act. (Section 76)

    In the Catechism itself we read, even more clearly,

    And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” – a state and not an act. (Section 404)

    I freely grant that this is not as clear as it might be. However, I think it’s beyond dispute that this statement precludes personal guilt, since OS is “not a personal act.” Unfortunately these statements, which clearly reject the worst of the Augustinian doctrine, are embedded in other language which appears to uphold some modification of the Augustinian doctrine. I’ll also freely grant that this lack of clarity is scandalous. Sadly, this controversy has been messing with people’s minds for a millenium and a half. Benedict seems to be trying to back into some sort of solution that will at least put the worst of this behind us, and that itself is progress of a sort (cf. Pope ponders original sin, speaks about modern desire for change). Unfortunately, I don’t have a direct line to him. 🙁 If I did, I’d tell him how to deal with it. 🙂

    Quite frankly, I believe that many theologians would like to jettison the whole thing, as I do (and as Dulles discussed), but they’re trying to do it by reinterpreting traditional language, looking for a way out of what they see as more of a dilemma of authority than a true theological problem. That’s ultimately quite unsatisfactory, but I think I know the way out of that, too, btw. 🙂

  • Paul Owen

    What would you think of the idea that the “Adam” of Genesis 1 and the “Adam” of Genesis 2 are related but distinct? The Adam of Genesis 1 stands for humankind, and in that sense is a symbolic image for the beginning of man in the biological sense. The Adam of Genesis 2 was a particular human being, into whom God breathed the gift of spiritual life. Whereas the Adam of Genesis 1 stands for an original population (evolved around 200,000 years ago), the Adam of Genesis 2 was the first “priest” who (around 4,000 B.C.) began to live out the potentiality of the divine image in the symbolic sanctuary of the Garden. This man was tempted by Satan, fell from grace, and brought God’s curse as the representative priest and federal head of the human population. By distinguishing these two creation stories, we can keep Adam (of chapter 2) as an historical individual, while recognizing that in a biological sense, the whole human race stems from the “corporate” Adam of Genesis 1.

    • peteenns

      Paul, I agree that the Adam of ch. 2 is a subset of “adam” in ch. 1: Israel is the subset of humanity that the OT talks about. I am not sure I would quite square it the timetable you give, in part because I feel these are stories that aren’t designed to engage history in this way. Still, I think what you say here can be on the table.

      • Paul Owen

        Thanks for confirming that my view is not completely crazy at least. I’ve just noticed that a lot of these discussions proceed on the assumption (which is easy to fall into) that Genesis 1 and 2 are talking about “man” in the same exact sense. Genesis 1 does not refer to the creation of an individual human couple, though it is talking about the origin of the human species (Adam 1) in some sense (albeit not scientific). Genesis 2 is talking about an individual man, and this is the man who shows up in the biblical genealogies and Romans 5. I have a very hard time jettisoning Adam 2 as the Patriarchal Father of Israel and the Church, but I do not view Adam 2 as the biological ancestor of the whole human family. I need to pick up your book to find out in more detail what your views are, but I’m hoping to write up an article on this topic in the next few months. Thanks!

        In Christ and Our Lady,

  • Jobu

    Good afternoon Peter! First, I want to thank you for writing this book, which serves to further the dialogue about this important topic. I appreciate that your books are often willing to bring up difficult topics, even if all the answers are not known and the resulting picture doesn’t fit into a tidy little box. I can only imagine the resulting blow-back that you may have received from the Christian community for even asking such questions, which is a real shame. It is unfortunate that debates such as this often end with people trying to redraw the lines and decide for themselves who is in and who is out of “the club.”

    I am currently part of a book club at my church where we are concurrently reviewing your book and Collins’ book on Adam and Eve. Having read both, I have to admit, I still don’t know what I believe to be true, and I’m sure it will take me a while to sort it out in my mind. Regarding your book, I find myself in the curious position of finding each of your individual points (about the nature of Genesis, the nature of Paul’s argument, etc.) to be compelling, yet I’m still struggling with the main conclusion. The reason for this is that, while your arguments make good sense to me, I feel like there is a massive hole at the beginning of the metanarrative if Adam and Eve are removed. In the NT we see that so much of what Jesus has to say is about the inauguration of the Kingdom of God, which is the (at least partial) fulfillment of the expectations of OT Israel regarding their God returning to the land and setting things to rights. And if we trace this theme back, we find that the reason why God needs to renew and redeem his creation is because it is currently corrupted by evil and sin. In fact, in my opinion, the thrust of the OT story (or better yet, the whole Bible) is God’s plan to deal with evil and sin, and that plan pretty much starts in Genesis 12. Thus, Genesis 1-11 seems to be setting up the problem that the whole rest of the Bible seems to be solving. If you remove the story of Adam and Eve it seems like we’re left with some vague notion of how sin entered the world (if in fact it was ever not part of the world), which seems to really pull some of the teeth out of the biblical narrative.

    I have to admit, I really want to affirm the position that is in your book. There’s so much in there that makes a lot of sense to me. But I’m getting hung up on this one point. If we are willing to symbolize away a major part of the story (such as Adam and Eve) or treat it as some sort of mythic history that embelishes some small historical root of a story (like the Flood, or the Exodus), that seems to undercut the power of the biblical narrative. What makes the second half of the narrative so powerful, in my mind, is that it is rooted in reality — Jesus actually came to earth to inaugurate the Kingdom; God will actually return to fully realize his Kingdom, and he will renew creation *here* and solve the problem of evil and sin *here*, in this actual world where we live. To borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis, the biblical story is where “myth became fact.” The Biblical story has tremendous mythical import, but it’s the basis in fact that gives it real power. I’m sure we all agree that some portion of this story *has* to be historical (coughJESUScough) and that there are parts that really can be seen as myth or historiography or something else that offends our Modern sensibilities. I’m just having trouble deciding where Adam and Eve fit.

    So, please, Dr. Enns … I believe; help my unbelief!


    PS – I actually live in greater Philadelphia, and if you would like to attend our book club and help us understand, you are more than welcome!

    • peteenns

      Oh my, help your unbelief. Hmm. Well…. how about this. I am not removing A&E from the metanarrative but redefining their place in the metanarrative. (And again, I am not the first to see Adam as proto-Israel.)

      • Jobu

        But doesn’t it seem a little weird to have a metanarrative that starts figuratively and then plays out more or less historically?

        Also, I didn’t really mean “unbelief,” I’m just saying that I kind of understand and kind of don’t understand at the same time.

        • peteenns

          My short answer is no. My long answer is another book 🙂

          • Jobu

            I look forward to it!

          • peteenns

            Just don’t hold your breath 🙂