Thoughts on Kevin DeYoung’s Restless Comments on the Historical Adam

Thoughts on Kevin DeYoung’s Restless Comments on the Historical Adam February 13, 2012

When I read Kevin DeYoung’s post last week on 10 reasons to believe in a historical Adam, I was initially inclined to shrug and let it go. It’s a big world filled with all sorts of opinions, and there’s no need to reach for my laptop whenever I read something disagreeable. (See cartoon to the left.)

I also don’t want to be misunderstood as piling on a Christian brother, since biblical scholar and blogger James had already offered a brief but devastating rebuttal only hours after the post went up.

After giving it some thought, however, I decided to post my thoughts anyway (and apologies in advance for the length), since DeYoung’s post, as problematic as it is, hardly represents an isolated pocket of Evangelicalism, and I presume it meets with the enthusiastic approval of DeYoung’s internet sponsor The Gospel Coalition.

But this sort of post is precisely what is not needed in the current climate: a “here I stand” defense that obscures, mischaracterizes, or simply misunderstand key issues, and so builds walls rather than bridges to the sort of dialogue that is needed to address the many pressing and well-known challenges involved in the Adam/evolution issue.

The problems begin with the opening paragraphs. DeYoung refers to those who view the matter of Adam differently than he does as “self-proclaimed” Evangelicals. DeYoung does not seem to accept that everyone’s Evangelical (as opposed to ecclesiastical) identity is self-proclaimed, including his own–unless there is some external accrediting body I am not aware of.

Further, his rhetoric here suggests, not too subtly, that he sees himself in a position of delineating who is in and who is out. I reject the premise and do not recognize such self-proclaimed gatekeeping authority.

More importantly, DeYoung’s rhetoric reveals his central concern. He has not come to listen, learn, and dialog, but to retrace the protective boundaries of Evangelicalism (as he sees it). He does not entertain the possibility that it may be time to rethink some of those boundaries, and that the impetus for such rethinking can come from within, and for compelling reasons. A failure to be self-critical is the death rattle of any movement.

DeYoung next reminds us that “the most important question is what does the Bible teach,” thus implying that the simple failure to do so is what lies behind the recent and regrettable spate of alternate views voiced by Christian scientists, theologians, and biblical scholars.

DeYoung does not seem to allow for the possibility that those with whom he disagrees may well be paying very close attention to the Bible and trying to discern just what the Bible does and does not “teach.”

DeYoung’s opening comments—protect Evangelical identity and read your Bible—suggests that what follows will be a quick dismissal of alternate views and a reiteration of the alleged inviolable and self-evident biblical (i.e., Evangelical) conclusions one must draw in the Adam/evolution discussion, which is precisely what we see in the “10 reasons” he offers.

1. DeYoung claims that “the Bible does not put an artificial wedge between history and theology,” meaning that the theology of Genesis rests on its historicity. But the entire issue turns on what is meant by “history and theology,” the relationship between them in Genesis, and just what an “artificial wedge” looks like as a result.

Those aware of that on-going discussion would want to ask DeYoung to defend his assertion that history and theology are closely aligned in Genesis, while also demanding that he give a credible account of the mountains of scientific and ANE evidence that brought the historical challenges to light in the first place–which is to ask whether DeYoung is tying history and theology together “artificially.”

To avoid further misunderstanding, let me say that no one I know in this discussion is saying that history doesn’t matter for theology. Rather, the historical and theological dimensions of the Adam story specifically are well-known to be problematic and cannot be sidestepped by making empty claims about artificial wedges.

Neither will this discussion be helped by appealing to the ultimate Evangelical conversation stopper, accusing one’s opponents of being influenced by the “Enlightenment.” The Enlightenment foundations of the type of fundamentalism DeYoung is advocating here are well known.

2. DeYoung’s understanding of the nature of ANE myth and the relationship of Old Testament to it seems to have some gaps.

To be sure, Old Testament origins stories (not limited to Genesis 1-3 but, e.g., psalms that pick up on the cosmic battle motif) were written to “supplant” for Israel the myths of the surrounding nations. That is crystal clear. But DeYoung takes this in a curious direction.

Israel’s stories do not supplant the other stories by being somehow “historical” by contrast–to show those Babylonians “what really happened.” Israel’s stories offer an alternate theological account of their God by employing mythic themes and imagery of other cultures–even if those themes and images are reframed and re-presented by the biblical writers, which they certainly were.

The polemic of Israel’s creation stories works because they share the same conceptual world of their neighbors. DeYoung seems to think the polemic works because it abandons that conceptual world.

If there is anything we have learned about the Old Testament over the last 150 years, it is the clear and pervasive influence of the ANE world on the biblical writers–which is to say, the Bible reflects the cultural contexts in which is was written.

DeYoung seems to have a problem with this, and so seeks to put an “artificial wedge” between Israel’s creation stories and those of the ANE world at large. That is a battle he simply cannot win.

3. McGrath corrected DeYoung by pointing out that Genesis 1 does have poetic elements, namely the poetic structure of the days, even if other poetic elements are missing. But I am not sure why DeYoung brings Genesis 1 into the picture in the first place, since the topic is Adam, who makes his appearance in Genesis 2.

Nevertheless, I agree with DeYoung that a poetic description does not necessarily mean something is non-historical. However, reading narrative (Genesis 2ff.) does not mean one is reading history, as DeYoung seems to imply. Narrative can certainly be used to describe historical events and highly stylized historical events (historical fiction), but it is also used to relay fictional accounts–in ancient and modern times.

Narrative does not guarantee historicity, in the Bible or any other literature. Historicity is determined by other factors.

4. Following upon #3, DeYoung’s assertion that there is a “seamless strand of history from Adam to Abraham” is a stock item of Evangelical apologetics, and one cannot blame him for calling upon it. As the reasoning goes, since the Abraham story is clearly straightforward history, and since the editor of the Pentateuch put the Abraham story immediately after the primeval history, that this pairing definitively settles the question of whether Genesis 1-11 is historical.

If one pauses to think about it, the logic of that argument is hardly self-evident. DeYoung also seems unaware or unconcerned that there are legitimate and widely discussed historical challenges surrounding the Patriarchal narratives themselves, the acknowledgment of which should at least should temper DeYoung’s assertion. Further, even if the Patriarchal narratives displayed the kind of history DeYoung sees there, the pressing historical issues of Genesis 1-11 would still remain.

If the matter were as simple as DeYoung puts it here, one would hardly need nine other reasons to believe in a historical Adam.

5. DeYoung’s brief comment on the reference to Adam in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3 suggests an unfamiliarity with the nature and function of ancient genealogies.

DeYoung would also need to explain–not assume–why the presence of a name in an biblical genealogy, even if presumed to be historical by the writers, settles the historical question of human origins today. No doubt, he would respond that to say otherwise would violate the inerrancy of Scripture, but this simply begs the question: “what do you mean by inerrancy, and what makes you think you can apply it this way in this instance?”

It is rhetorically compelling to look at the genealogy in Luke, which has Jesus and Adam on either end of it, and conclude that both must be understood today as historical in every sense of the word. But does DeYoung really think that those who disagree are somehow missing this prooftext? Again, if things were as simple as DeYoung makes them out to be, we would not need another nine reasons.

6. The argument here is substantially the same as in #5. DeYoung claims that Paul believed in a historical Adam, and I agree with him (though not all Evangelicals do). He further implies that this observation should settle the matter, as we can see from his citation of Tim Keller at the end of the post: ” If you don’t believe what he [Paul] believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching.”

This is an unfortunate quandary, for to take this admonition seriously, one has really little choice but to turn a blind eye to the scientific investigations of human origins. Perhaps DeYoung is prepared to do this and counsel others to follow his example. I am not sure.

Paul’s view on Adam is perhaps the central issue in this debate among Evangelicals. But the entire question turns on whether Paul’s comments on Adam are prepared to settle what can and cannot be concluded about human origin on the basis of scientific investigation.

Citing a few verses as transparent prooftexts does not relieve us of the necessary hermeneutical work of what to do with Paul’s words. Paul’s view of Adam does not end the discussion, as DeYoung thinks; it begins it.

7. “The weight of the history of interpretation points to the historicity of Adam.” This is false. It points to what those earlier interpreters had every right to assume about human origins on the basis what they understood at the time.

In his recent book, John Collins makes an analogous argument, that ancient Jewish views of Adam as first man should be considered “evidence” for the contemporary discussion of human origins, but surely this is a strange use of ancient sources. The entire point here is that much of the history of interpretation did not have to deal with evolution, so their perspective by definition does not help us.

DeYoung would need to explain how an appeal to assumptions of human origins in “pre-evolutionary” Christianity help us today in adjudicating a modern scientific issue, and how this same sort of reasoning would not also move us toward a flat earth and geocentric cosmos.

The “weight of the history of interpretation” is part of the problem we must think through today, not its solution.

8. Many have addressed the philosophical and theological issues concerning what it means to be human in view of evolution.  I wholly concur that this is a very big issue, and one that needs to be thought through, which is certainly happening today. The fact that DeYoung does not see how humans can be “all part of the same family” if evolution is true, however, does not mean that others can’t.

9-10. These final two points are variations on and implications of #6. DeYoung begs several questions–again, which have been pondered long and hard by others–about what the Bible actually says about original sin and guilt, and how Paul’s use of the Adam story is not necessary for the “doctrine of the second Adam to hold together.” DeYoung’s points here continue to betray a disregard to wide-ranging discussions among theologians, philosophers, and biblicists.

I am sorrowfully aware that this post could be taken (and no doubt will be taken by some) as clear evidence of the hubris of an academic, wholly detached from or even hostile to the life of the church. I am deeply sorry if anything I said has come across as demeaning or unnecessarily harsh. That is not my intention, and my concern about being misunderstood is the main reason why I hesitated posting at all.

But I think the issue before us is worth the risk of such misunderstanding. It is precisely a desire to contribute to the life of the church that has led so many in recent years to want to bring this issue out into the open.

Posts like DeYoung’s do not defend the faith as much as they calcify particular doctrinal formulations in the face of very clear data to the contrary–to the harm of all concerned. What is needed in this discussion is not the airing of views by the young and the restless, but more efforts to “come and reason together” by the seasoned and centered.





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  • leanne

    I still cannot imagine thinking that Adam and Eve were historical figures. Nor can I imagine giving my life over to evangelical apologetics in an effort to “prove” the preposterous.

    • huh?

      I don’t get that enthusiastic about DeYoung’s short blog, but sure find your ramblings offensive and near incomprehensible since many are just claims that you and your friends know better for some unstated reason. My guess is you are like the evolutionists who suggest their views are the only informed ones and pretend non-evolutionist scientists don’t exist.

      • peteenns


        • wjm

          This is off-topic question, but I feel compelled to ask it. You wrote “begs the question” twice. Is that phrase in quotation marks an idiom? Or is “question-begging” the idiom? Thanks. wm

  • Lawrence Garcia

    Outstanding. I will certainly share this. And look forward to your recent book on the issue.

  • Pete:

    Well you have to know that you are challenging long held beliefs. Beliefs that even you agree go back to the formation of the church in the first century – ie) Paul’s view of Adam. You also have to know that not everyone just accepts evolution as true because scientists say it, just as not everyone accepts the views you present here because you are a theologian/scholar.

    Regarding ANE/Genesis I do have some questions. If the Genesis account is an ANE myth that puts Israel in “pre-historic” times then who wrote it with that idea in mind. Did the author plan that as the meaning when they sat down to write/compile it?

    From reading other blog posts you have written, I understand you to be positing that a post-exilic Jew(s) wrote/compiled the account to make sure other Jews understood that they were still God’s chosen people despite being exiled and that the exile was because of their failure to obey God. But did he read Gen 12 thru Deuteronomy and decide that just isn’t enough to make that point. So this author decided to write a story that mimics really ancient mythical creation story telling that makes that same point only prior to the formation of the nation itself. Was ANE myth form still being used in post-exilic times?

    If Adam as proto-Israel was the author’s intent and meaning when compiling the text, why did Paul mistakenly think Adam was a real first human? Wouldn’t the same textual clues we use have tipped him off that this was really poetry and myth trying to make other points?

    Also what is your view regarding a historical person named Moses? Was he the person who led Israel out of Egypt and gave Israel the Law?


    • peteenns

      Hi Mike. I answer these questions in my book.

      • I’m thinking “I answer these questions in my book” will answer most questions and “I’ll answer that in my next book” will cover the rest 😉 Actually, I’ve found all of your books extremely helpful (much more helpful than the caricatures of your books I’ve heard).

  • Dan

    Pete, don’t apologize. I don’t know where my faith would be (or if it would exist, to be frank) if I hadn’t discovered such alternative ways of reading the text. You never know who you’ll be helping cross the tightrope.

  • Did you mean to say “However, reading narrative (Genesis 2ff.) does not mean one is reading history, as DeYoung seems to imply”?

  • Mark Traphagen

    Mike B:

    I want to address one of your statements. You assert that we should not “accept evolution as true” just because scientists “say” it is true. the implication seems to be that scientists hold the theory of evolution as the correct explanation for the development of the diversity of life as we see it today as an opinion, or that they establish it by some lime of majority vote. This is a common misconception of the way scientists work, and it lies behind much of the scientific ignorance we hear in America today, not least in the present political debates.

    Anything that has become “accepted” by science (to use your term) is so because scientists recognize that the preponderance of evidence points to the conclusion. In the case of evolution, that would be over a hundred years’ worth of millions of data points from dozens of different scientific disciplines, all of which agree at every point (despite the mischaracterizations and outright deceptions of some creationists) with the same story of the development of life, including human development. The more recent science of genetics has sealed the tomb on non-evolutionary views, and led to the inescapable conclusion about the impossibility of all humans having decended from one original pair (the scientific finding most apropos to Dr. Enns’s discussion).

    In a similar manner, Enns does not seem to be making any appeal that you should accept what he is saying because he is a “theologian/scholar,” nor does he anywhere suggest that all theologians agree on these points (quite the opposite, actually). What he is appealing for is an honest discussion centered around the evidence, not an intransigent “here I stand” supported by nothing more than a desperate need to cling to traditions that define one’s tribe.

    • Mark
      “You assert that we should not “accept evolution as true” just because scientists “say” it is true. the implication seems to be that scientists hold the theory of evolution as the correct explanation for the development of the diversity of life as we see it today as an opinion…”

      this was in part a response to Enns proposal that we can’t contest what science says if we are not scientists (see Part 4 of his Paul’s Adam series or part 2 of my series of posts on this topic). Here I disagree. Much of what scientists propose regarding evolution, junk DNA, or population sizes based genetics are just what you said ideas based on “preponderance of evidence [which] points to the conclusion”. Often however there are presuppositions or assumptions in the models that are made on the way to these conclusions. Just as there are when we interpret a passage of Scripture. In either case sometimes they are right, sometime the are not. A good example on the science side would be a static universe or Newtons idea that gravity travelled instantly. In the latter case while much of his testable conclusions on gravity held up this conclusion based on the evidence was refuted by Einstien in his theory of special relativity (see Elegant Universe).

      And you are right Enns has not said that we must accept his conclusions based on his being a Bible scholar. I mention that also based on the idea that if Enns says non-scientists can’t contest scientists conclusions then the corrollary could be that non-Biblical scholars should accept Enns conclusions. But he doesn’t say that, he opens that up to discussion. However, part of an honest discussion would not be starting with the premise if you question evolution you are wrong as he does in the “creating Adam” post, which certainly comes across as a “here I stand” moment.

      I think there needs to be an honest discussion about science’s claims just as much as about Scripture’s claims. However the former seems to be considered a done deal and that would leave most of the people Enns (and BioLogos) want to reach out of the discussion.


      • Paul D.

        “I think there needs to be an honest discussion about science’s claims just as much as about Scripture’s claims. ”

        Mike, I think you will find that there is no shortage of real scientists on the Internet and elsewhere who are more than willing to discuss the evidence for evolution with anyone who is interested. The evidence is very easy to come by; the problem seems to be that many evangelicals, unlike yourself, don’t want to discuss science’s claims, because they realize they won’t be able to draw any other honest conclusion from the evidence once they’ve seen it.

      • Mark Traphagen

        Mike B. – I didn’t reply because Paul D. already replied to you with exactly what I would’ve said. Except that I’m pretty sure he meant to type “evangelicals like yourself” not “unlike” yourself.

  • Don Johnson

    Thanks for this post. I have hope that more will accept Jesus before of this.

  • Yes items 5 and 6 seem to the the main motivation for arguments like this. They really need the traditional framework to maintain their system. So it is really sort of questions of, ‘what is your gospel?’ If it is a legal system that gets you to heaven by holding the correct beliefs and plugging into Christ’s substitutionary atonement as they define it, then no amount of evidence to the contrary is going to make a difference.

    • peteenns

      I think you are absolutely correct, Steve.

  • Joel Av

    Hi Pete,

    My own sense is that the folks like DeYoung who dismiss the idea of a non-historical Adam are falling short in two key respects. The first is that they are living and working in a cultural cloister: their engagement in culture is more like voices in an echo chamber. Their second shortcoming is that they seem to have a basic misunderstanding of the imago Dei. I would point to my own experience as an example.

    I held a fairly non-self-reflective view of a historical Adam until I encountered two things: Augustine’s De Trinitate, and non-Protestant Christian friends who did not have the same hang-up on Gen. 1-11 as I did. I went to a traditional liberal arts college and became friends with Christians who were outside the evangelical Protestant community. They showed me the possibility that one can embrace creed, tradition and science with more coherence and less tension. I knew more Scripture than they did, but they knew and embodied the creeds better than I did. Their examples helped me to rethink my “us vs. them” mentality that I had imbibed all throughout my evangelical Protestant upbringing.

    Augustine’s De Trinitate, however, was the most meaningful in turning on the light for me. It presented me with the argument that since God is spirit, humanity’s divine likeness must be primarily spiritual. I came to accept Augustine’s contention that that the human body is mere flesh apart from God, but that it becomes meaningful, holy even, in its relation to the soul-self as its temple. This in no way diminished my view of humanity’s origin. Rather it enhanced my view by showing me a redemptive pattern in God’s embracing mere flesh and putting into it a spirit like his own. This is not just what makes us human; it’s also the why and how of our humanity. Next to this, the empirical mechanics of forming the body “from the dust” become secondary. This ultimate meaning of my origin as a human being provides me with a truly redemptive perspective on evolution particularly and science generally.

    I don’t mean to bore you with this story, or anyone else for that matter. I certainly don’t mean to chastise anyone who believes in a historical Adam. On the contrary, I think my story could serve as an encouragement both to the open-minded and to those who appear to be more reactionary. You, Pete, probably know better than most how difficult and weighty these questions are. At the same time, you have certainly been humbler and more gracious in your dialogue than folks like DeYoung. I continue to appreciate your work in this discussion, and my hope that everyone in this discussion would embrace this same humility.

  • Jason

    Pete (or anyone else that can help me!),

    You mentioned in passing in your latest book, as well as this post, that there are questions concerning the historicity of biblical accounts of Abraham and the patriarchs. Tom Wright, for example, relies heavily on the covenant God made with Abraham to explain what God was doing through Israel and now through Christ, what do we do if this covenant never happened? What authors or books that would be helpful for determining what portions of the history of Israel we can be reasonably certain are actual history and furthermore how we deal with the theological implications of this.

    Thank you to anyone who can point me in the right direction!

  • Scot Miller

    Having already weighed-in on DeYoung’s original post (and a related post on the historical Adam), this entire discussion reminds me that most theology is about trying to get into or trying to protect some club of discourse. Some clubs are exclusive (like DeYoung’s), others not so exclusive. Or at least, some clubs don’t have much to say to people who don’t already share the same beliefs, while other clubs like being open to different ideas. Since I find the question of an historical Adam to be utterly implausible, if not almost certainly false from a scientific/historical point of view, I guess I just won’t be part of DeYoung’s club. I prefer to identify with larger, less exclusive clubs that engage believers and nonbelievers alike.

    I always thought the gospel was universal, that its message didn’t require someone to disengage their minds in order to believe, which is what DeYoung’s position would require of me. The overwhelming scientific evidence (as widely accepted in the scientific community) is that evolution is a fact and Adam and Eve are implausible. So for the time being, because I want to be in a club open to scientific truth, I’ll accept evolution and revise what I thought about Adam. (Adam isn’t a historical person, but a myth expressing the truth of what happens to every human being). As the old expression goes, “Truth is truth wherever it is found,” and that includes science. Or, to paraphrase Meister Eckhart, if I had a choice between God and the truth, I’ll always take the truth: God is not always found where “God” is, but God is always found where truth is.

    • Ken Duncan


      Is this truth the LAW of Spontaneous Generation? Piltdown Man as the missing Link? Cold fusion in a glass of water on the table? A static universe? Which pieces of science are true?? It is ironic that people who affirm being Christians (whatever exactly that ought to mean) rush to reject biblical assertions based upon appropriate hermeneutical tools, but treat science as one gigantic, monolithic, INERRANT, entity, as though no scientist ever had a stake in the results of his/her work, no scientist was ever affected by worldview commitments, and no scientist would ever interpret the data in a way that served his/her purposes. Sorry, but such an entity does not exist in my time-space universe. Maybe in some other universe, but not this one.

  • Paul

    One of the (many) logical points that biblical literalists can’t grasp is the distinction between “myth” and “lie.”

    Many evangelicals teach that if the stories are not 100% true as history, and if the authors were not conveying accurate history, then necessarily that means that the bible is a lie and/or that the authors were commiting an act of deceit.

    But as you point out, Pete, the writings represent the authors’ attempt to wrestle with god, history and morality, subject to their limited knowledge. It reflects the ideas of a particular set of people in a particular culture at a particular time. That the authors had limited knowledge of science and therefore were themselves wrong about scientific facts says nothing about their intent, nor about the usfulness of the books as spiritual instruction.

    But nuance is a scary place, because it then forces a person to try to figure out what they believe and why. And that’s a lifelong quest with no easy resolution. Much easier to put your fingers in your ears and close your eyes.

  • Dan Arnold


    Thanks for this. I appreciate that you point out the Enlightenment roots of Evangelicalism. While fundamentalism is portrayed as a reaction against modernism, it is really is just a mirror of it. This forces a particular understanding of myth which runs counter to non-modernist understandings of it. In essence, DeYoung places a modernist interpretive grid on a decidedly non modernist text.

    I find it ironic that DeYoung would appeal to “the weight of the history of interpretataion.”. Is he not aware that this weight falls heavily on the side of allegory within Christianity and midrash among the rabbis? Origen outright rejected a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3. Relatively speaking, The supposedly more literal interpretation (in a fundamentalist sense, not in the sense of the authors’ intended meaning) is quite novel. Is one also supposed to believe that the mustard seed is truly the smallest seed?

    I do believe this is an issue of interpretation and that we need to seek the original meaning(s). But how can we understand what the original authors’ intent was without understanding the circumstances in which they wrote? If we do not understand the original circumstances, the bias will be to import our own and assume they are the same as the human authors’. Books like yours have been helpful in searching for those authorial circumstances even as they painfully grate against certain forms of Evangelical orthodoxy.

    • Dan:

      while I understand your point, Origen is hardly the “poster child” for what the early church considered orthodoxy and even Enns agrees that Paul interpreted Adam/Gen the same way as DeYoung – historical. How would that interpretation then be considered novel?


      • Dan Arnold

        I know that Origen was problematic for many (and the history of the politics surrounding Origen, centuries after his death, are unfortunately, too involved for a blog comment). But there is no single person who was more influential in the history of biblical interpretation than Origen. Even if St. Paul considered Adam an historical person (which I would definitely agree with), we can by no means assume that St Paul’s and DeYoung’s concepts of history are at all alike, as exemplified by Paul’s treatment of the rock that followed Moses being Christ. It is therefore the overall hermeneutic employed that is historically novel.

        • Not sure I follow Dan,
          regardless of DeYoungs’ 10 reasons, he asserts that Paul taught Adam was a historical person. Enns agrees with DeYoung on this point as do you and I.

          as for Paul’s hermeneutic regarding Genesis are you suggesting he viewed it as allegory/literary myth but still came up with the conclusion that Adam was historical?


          • Dan Arnold


            Actually, I’m trying to say the converse. Paul assumes that Adam was a historical person. No question in my mind about that. But Paul’s concept of history is much closer to what we might call myth or allegory. This is why I used the example of the rock following Moses. It’s pretty clear that this falls into Paul’s concept of history, but its historicity is dubious from within our framework.

          • Dan,

            “Paul’s concept of history is much closer to what we might call myth or allegory.”

            Sorry if I am being dense. Are you saying Paul knowingly read the Genesis account (or others) as allegory but still assumed historical truth was found in them or that in his day he missed the allegorical nature of the account and thus came to the conclusion that it was history when it was not?

          • Dan Arnold


            (My apologies for missing a day in our conversation, but sometimes work gets quite busy.)

            The closest analogy I can think of is to ask if you believe that Washington really cut down a cherry tree in his youth and refused to lie about it. Many people think this is an historical event in Washington’s life. People who believe this story is true are not being deceptive when they repeat it as history. This is part of the story of the founding of our nation (I’m American) and it can be traced back to biographies written shortly after Washington’s death.

            However, there is no actual historical documentation (primary sources) for such an event in his life. It appears that the myth of the chopping down the cherry tree serves as a metaphor for Washington’s honesty and hence exemplifies what virtuous Americans should strive to be.

            Likewise, what Paul considered history is frequently what we would now consider myth or allegory (where allegory is an extended metaphor). It’s his worldview: the lenses through which he viewed the world. I’m not advocating a form of historical positivism here. I’m simply trying to point out that Paul could not view the world (and therefore history) the same way we in the post-Enlightenment West do.

        • Ken Duncan

          So Dan, are you then affirming that Paul’s view of history (which you have not defined) is wrong because you, or so it sounds, believe in the von Rankean Positivist nonsense about writing history wie es eignetlich gewesen? Have you learned nothing from postmodernism? All claims, including that of those who defend evolution in my view, if Foucault is correct, are made as power plays to oppress others. Have you actually read any Hellenistic texts to know what people thought history was? I have. Shall we talk Thucydides, Lucian, or Seutonius?

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    Most likely many of you have seen this already, but there is an excellent response/critique (uh, devastating it seems to me) of Keven DeYoung’s 10 arguments for an “historical” Adam: you can see it here:
    or in tiny form:

    • peteenns

      Yes, this is a more thorough, academic response.

  • I often wonder how evangelical schools will ever change. If a president or professor of the school takes the risk of saying anything, he or she will probably be out of a job. Plus there is the fear of losing the big donors.

    I suppose on the principle of ‘follow the money,’ it is when they finally start seriously losing students, who start going elsewhere where they can learn, that they will finally start to change.

  • Pete,

    If the scientific consensus was that Adam and Eve could have been historical, would you still hold that they were not historical?

    • peteenns

      Explain what you mean by Adam and Eve and what it means for a scientific consensus to say something COULD have happened and what type of evidence would lend itself toward that consensus. Hypotheticals gets nowhere.

      • What I’m trying to understand, Pete, is if it’s the consensus of modern science on human origins that has pushed you to interpret Adam and Eve as ahistorical. And, if so, do you simply accept the scientific view on faith or do you have a means by which you as a non-scientist can independently reach their conclusion?

        Or, on the other hand, are you saying that you reached the view that Adam and Eve are ahistorical simply because that’s the way the Bible reads to you, independent of anything the scientific community says about human origins?

        • peteenns


          I’d put it this way. I accept evolution not by “faith”, but because it is wise for me to do so, trusting those who have the capacity to understand the details, which requires specific training. I can’t simply reject that. It is like someone who doesn’t know Hebrew taking me to task for how I understand a parallel poetic structure: they don;t know enough to engage. I don’t think non-scientists can evaluate a scientific theory. The only people I know who argue for a literal Adam on the basis os science are apologists trying to preserve a literalism. The reverse does not hold, that evolutionary science has developed to debunk biblical literalism.

          But, as I’ ve written in some places, even without evolution, a historical Adam is a problem in view of ANE origins stories.

          I guess what threw me in your original question the ideas of IF a scientific consensus existed that made a historical Adam POSSIBLE, would I accept it. Without intending to equate the two, one could ask “If a scientific consensus existed where Marduk and Tiamat COULD have engaged in a cosmic batte, would you accept it?”

          • Pete, I put my response to this below where I could get a little more elbow room.

          • peteenns

            A “little” elbow room?

        • Do you believe the Sun is at the center of our solar system simply by “faith” because Astronomers tell you it is, or is your belief independent of “science”?

          It’s the same kind of question.

          I also hate the term “literalist” because I take the Bible literally. The text says what it was meant to say. It’s not an honest term. No one (credible) takes statements that clearly oppose the most rudimentary observations at “face value” in the Bible, it’s just a matter of where each person “draws the line” and on which issues we make sacred cows.

          I think the better approach is to ask what the text is trying to say, how does it function to the people it was for, and then how does that translate to us…

          Am I wrong here?

          • peteenns

            Maybe “literalistic” is a better word than “literal”

  • RJS

    Nice post. I just can’t fathom the logic that claims that because Luke places Adam in the genealogy of Jesus we are compelled to view Adam as literal biological progenitor of the human race. Luke is using scripture to make a point to connect Jesus to David, Israel, and the promises of God. Luke’s point is dead on accurate. But the question of Genesis, I think, has to be answered by Genesis, not by appeal to the way Luke used Chronicles and Genesis.

    • peteenns

      Also, one can make a case that Luke’s genealogy is Israel centered, if we just take note of the names mentioned.

      • RJS

        Support for “Adam is Israel”?

        • peteenns

          Right. Israel is Gods son–Exod 4 and Hosea 11

    • Ken Duncan

      How can Luke’s point be dead on accurate if the core material he worked with is simply wrong?? That’s like saying that the conclusion that cell phones cause car accidents is dead on accurate, even if included in the statistics are accidents in which no one had a cell phone. I don’t understand the premise of posts here that you can take a foundation stone out of the wall, but see the wall as perfectly fine. At least let’s all have the intellectual honesty and integrity to say, “I believe in macro-biological evolution. This is an incontrovertible, inerrant fact. So all religious beliefs, including the statements of those in the Bible that propose a different view of reality are simply wrong and good primarily for paper weights.” If I had your position, I would not lie to myself that it’s still fine to believe in Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, since the majority of biblical scholars reject the existence of Jacob and a great many of them of Israel, an invention rather by Hezekiah and Isaiah in the seventh century. Jesus isn’t David’s son, since David didn’t exist. Jesus could not even figure out that Genesis did not present the idea of a real, original human. If he couldn’t get that straight, then I certainly wouldn’t want to believe anything else he had to say. If he, as Peter Enns has asserted, held the views of his culture, and evolution, the origin of all life by random chance and natural selection from a random, but quite fortuitous combination of molecules four billion years ago is true, all the religious stuff in the Bible is nonsense anyway.

  • Mark Edward

    Not to detract from the purpose of your post, but… perhaps you should include a credit for that xkcd comic.

    • peteenns

      Good idea. Happy to.

  • Pete,

    If I told you that I did not have faith in Jesus Christ but instead trusted Him, you would accuse me of double talk…and rightly so. If you as a non-scientist trust the scientific community on the subject of human origins, you should not be ashamed to say so. To say that you don’t have faith in their explanation but instead trust it is to speak nonsensically.

    I fully concur with your statement that “I don’t think non-scientists can evaluate a scientific theory.” I am a non-scientist like you. Hence the reason for my questions to you. I thought you could appreciate my perspective and that your experience in coming to this conviction could be instructive for me and others.

    Your second paragraph looks like it might be an answer to my question, but it is not straightforward enough. Are you saying that even in the absence of evolution, your knowledge of ANE literature would cause you to believe that Adam and Eve were ahistorical (and that Paul was wrong to think they were)?

    As to your question at the end, I am not so gullible as to want to believe in everything about the past that scientific theory says is possible. Neither, however, am I willing to quickly walk away from a straightforward reading (which you describe pejoratively as “literalism”) of multiple passages of Scripture – from both Testaments – which refer to Adam and Eve as actual people – not to mention allusions like the one Jesus made when He condemned divorce. (If the only reference we had to Adam and Eve was the early chapters of Genesis, ahistoricity of Adam and Even would be an easier case to press.)

    I acknowledge that the tension between the historicity of Adam and Eve on the one hand and the scientific community’s position on evolution and its bearing on human origins on the other is significant and not easily resolved. Your book seems to be an aid to those who have decided to resolve that tension by accepting evolution’s answer and consequently are looking for a different hermeneutic regarding Adam and Eve – one that does not produce cognitive dissonance. I’m looking for something that comes before that.

    I am looking for what moved you to the point of determining that a different hermeneutic was necessary in the first place. The trouble I’m having is that it sounds like it was the scientific consensus on evolutionary theory that moved you. That is, you’re trusting the view of experts, just as you would hope that novices in Hebrew would trust you. I fully agree with the principle of trusting experts. However, in this case, it’s not as if the experts don’t have a vested interest. You speak disparagingly of those scientists who defend the historicity of Adam and Eve, yet everyone has a dog in this hunt. Elaine Howard Ecklund’s research (2010) shows that 64% of scientists are self-described atheists or agnostics, and of the 27% who have “some belief in God” over half considered themselves “religious liberals.” Scientists are not a group for whom the biblical record is essential reading matter.

    Nevertheless, if the scientific community is right about evolution and human origins, I not only am willing to believe them – I’d want to believe them. However, to come to that conclusion as a non-scientist, I need more than just their word. (If expert opinion is to rule the day, Paul was disqualified as a truth-bearer after his encounter on Mars Hill.) I’m looking for something, or some things, which can bring me to a conviction independent of social pressure – that is, the social pressure that comes not only from expert opinion but from the fact that this expert opinion has been widely disseminated and accepted by society at large. If you have that something, or some things, please tell me. If you don’t, then please tell me that, too.

    • peteenns

      Mike, I honestly don’t know what you are trying to say, esp. in the first paragraph. Could you try again and be more succinct?

      • Why do you find a natural explanation of human origins more convincing than a supernatural explanation, especially given the respective sources of those competing views?

        • peteenns

          Because the Bible is not a science book and not set up to explain origins in the manner that we arte asking the question today. Same with cosmology, anthropology (why different languages exist) etc.

          • By that standard, I don’t see how you maintain faith in any of the miracles recorded in the Bible, including the one most critical to faith, the resurrection of Christ. (In case you hadn’t heard, scientists consider it implausible.)

          • peteenns

            Mike, this point is often made but it is not sound. The resurrection of the Son of God is not something that can be tested scientifically. Gravity, electro-magnetism, Doppler Shift, fossils, heliocentrism, etc., etc. can. How old the earth is and whether or not life evolved can be scientifically investigated.

          • Pete, what you say about the resurrection of the last Adam is no less true of the creation of the first.

            The fields of study you mention can at best speculate about the past. They can no more rule out a supernatural creation of Adam that supersedes the existing order than they can rule out the resurrection of Christ that supersedes the existing order.

            I may sound merely polemical, but I am actually willing to adopt to your position. I just that I can’t do so without more convincing evidence or arguments than I’ve seen.

          • peteenns

            Mike, I’ve brought that argument to practicing scientists and they look at me like I have three heads. They speak of a convergence of evidence from different fields verifying over and over again over the last several generations that the evidence points to an evolutionary paradigm. What is speculative is some details and the philosophical/religious conclusions people draw. Saying these finding are “speculative” as if they are simply wild guesses suggests you have an understanding of what science is that is at odds with what is actually practiced.

          • Jordan

            Mike, I’m definitely siding with Pete on this matter. It simply does not follow that one must reject the historicity of the resurrection if they do not also accept the historicity of the creation account(s). For one, the story of the resurrection is clearly a different type of literature than the creation stories. Second, the instantaneous, 6-day creation of the world ~6000 years ago is a scenario that can be tested by science based on the evidence that it would be expected to leave (unless you subscribe to the Omphalos hypothesis). On the other hand, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not amenable to science because we don’t have his body to examine — there is no scientific evidence left for us to see (just historical testimony). Yes, it is “implausible” that bodies should rise from the dead — but that’s exactly what made Jesus’ resurrection so great. It was a miracle. The evolution of humanity, by contrast, was demonstrably not a miracle. The evidence for this is widely published and open to scrutiny, so there’s no need to posit a global conspiracy theory in the way that you have.

          • Jordan, I am not “positing a global conspiracy theory.”

            May I ask you the question that I originally asked Pete above? (Dated Feb 15, 1:42pm)

  • I like another question Mike raised. His point was made better than my earlier attempt:

    “in the absence of evolution, your knowledge of ANE literature would cause you to believe that Adam and Eve were ahistorical (and that Paul was wrong to think they were)?”

    It is a hypothetical, but raises a good point.

    On a related note, the statement “the Bible is not a science book and not set up to explain origins” is often made. However are we removing any idea that God – through speaking to the prophets – could have conveyed historical and scientific truth (as well as theological) regarding origins in a manner that was understandable to the original audience and to us?

    • peteenns

      Mike and Mike (sounds like a radio show): the ubiquity of creation myths in the ancient world, specifically the ANE, and then reading the Adam story along side of it leads to the inevitable conclusion that they share ways of looking at the world. To think that all the other nations had origins stories that “fit” culturally at the time, and then Israel comes on the scene and alone gives us information that is amenable to history and science today is a bizarre logic that would need to be defended, not assumed as true. That defense invariably takes takes refuge in theological prolegomena where what we “know” to be necessarily true of God (attributes such as omniscience) precludes Israel’s participation in ANE myth. What is forgotten is that we worship an incarnating God, not a Platonic one.

      • Pete,

        If Adam and Eve were historical, it follows that the story of their creation as passed on to their many generations of descendants would retain many similarities as well as pick up dissimilarities along the way. It also follows that Israel, by virtue if its prophets, would keep the one true version.

        Scientific knowledge and theory, by its very nature, is always changing. As 17th century scientists could not imagine what 21st-century scientists “know,” so 21st-century scientists cannot imagine what 25th-century scientists will know – much less 30th-century scientists and beyond. There is a big difference between knowledge and theory, but the distinction seems to be blurred for many people today. To set aside a straightforward and unchanging biblical account because it does not easily dovetail with current – and therefore transient – scientific theory seems to be ill-advised.

        • peteenns

          Yes, If.

          IF I posit that the earth is 6000 years old a lot of things follow from that, too. You are making a lot of assumptions here about the nature of biblical literature, and you would need to try to argue all that goes behind your “if.” In other words, I don’t grant you the “if.” You need to argue it, support it, which means taking into account the reasons why the contrary is offered so consistently. The same goes for feeling that the biblical account is “straightforward and unchanging” by being transmitted by the “prophets.”

          Of course, scientific knowledge changes. That’s what science is about. But, there is no going back scientifically to a flat 6000 year old earth, geocentric cosmos, or the special creation of two literal first humans, one from dust, the other from the first human’s side. I think you are making a mistake here I see repeated too often. The changing nature of scientific knowledge is not de facto support of a literalistic reading of the Adam story. Literalism is not innocent until proven guilty. It has to be argued like any other hermeneutic.

          • It seems the only hermeneutic that does not have to be argued is one based on evolutionary theory.

          • peteenns

            No, Mike, there is not hermeneutic “based on evolutionary theory.” Like I said, there are other reasons not to read Genesis literalistically. But all good hermeneutics must take into account “general revelation,” no? If the biblical writers talk about a flat earth than doesn’t move on its foundations, it would be a “bad hermeneutic” to keep our knowledge of how the world works from affecting how we understand those passages (not literally). I think where we differ is how we understand how God works in the word and what we expect Scripture to do as a result.

        • So, to close out our discussion, a hermeneutic which keeps in mind “our knowledge of how the world works” would disallow an historical Adam and Eve. I presume it would also disallow Noah and the flood, the plagues on Egypt, the drying up of the Red Sea, the manna in the desert, the water from the rock, the walls of Jericho falling down, the sun standing still for Joshua, Jonah and the great fish, and more. You’ve already excepted the resurrection of Christ, but wha.t about the miracles of Christ’s ministry (e.g. walking on water, healings, feeding the five thousand)? And the miracles of the apostles in the book of Acts?

          I am not being argumentative here. Rather, I am trying to go away from this conversation with an accurate understanding of the hermeneutic regarding biblical claims beyond our normative experience that you deem appropriate, and without which one joins ranks with the flat-earthers. So far all I’ve gotten is that you think it’s silly to believe that Adam and Eve are historical but you yourself seem to believe in the resurrection of Christ. There is a lot of ground between those two and I’m trying to figure where you drawn the line of division. That is, whether you regard most of the Bible’s stupendous claims as ahistorical, or just the one about human origins. Surely you won’t think it an unreasonable question or a hard one to answer.

          By the way, you’ve been gracious to respond to all of my questions in this exchange, but don’t think you are aware of how little your answers reveal about your position on these matters. You are far more revealing about what you don’t believe than you are about why you don’t believe it, or than you are about what you do believe and why you believe it. In other words, you’ve been describing what your hermeneutic isn’t rather than what it is.

          • Jordan

            Mike, I think you’re being a bit disingenuous by lumping all of the Bible’s claims about the world into the same category. For one, the Bible comprises many different types of literature that cannot all be expected to speak to the type of historical science you evidently expect from them. Second, not all of the Bible’s claims can be tested in a scientific manner. The story of Noah’s Flood can be tested because, if it were historically accurate in its details, it would be expected to leave distinctive evidence on a global scale that we should be able to observe even today. By contrast, Jesus’ walking on water can hardly be expected to leave any evidence that can be subjected to scientific scrutiny today. It’s something that must be taken on faith (or not) based solely on the testimony of the gospels.
            With respect, this slippery-slope that you apparently fear simply doesn’t exist for the reasons given above. If it did, you’d likewise be arguing for both the flatness of the earth and the geocentricity of our universe, as the Bible clearly states.

          • Mike,

            You should examine a non-concordist approach to Genesis. Both YEC and OEC camps (some OEC camps) argue that Genesis “concords” with scientific evidence. That assumption should be challenged.

            Non-concordist approaches to the Creation account have a very long and distinguished history. For a more recent examination of this hermeneutic check out John Walton’s “Lost World of Genesis 1” or Martin and Vaugn’s “Beyond Creation Science.”

            IF Genesis is NOT talking about the creation of the material universe then what the latest science says is besides the point.


          • Mike,

            Another point that the YEC crowd misses, especially when they try to make the leap from Creation to Resurrection is this.

            Christ’s physical Resurrection was A SIGN given to an unbelieving generation (Matt. 12:38-40). It signified that he was the first to “rise from the dead” (Acts. 26:23), which proves, by the way, that “the death of Adam” was in no way biological.

            A sign never signifies itself. It points to something greater.

            Jesus gave plenty of signs (EVIDENCE) that he was Messiah to the unbelieving Pharisees and Judaizer’s of his day. They ignored the evidence because they had a certain interpretation of the Scriptures that they thought was infallible.

            Christ’s Resurrection from the death of Adam was not something that could be visibly seen. (Because the death of Adam wasn’t connected to biology.) Therefore, his biological resurrection, served as a sign that he did indeed become the first Israelite to “stand again.”

            This was further vindicated by his “coming” in AD 70, that he predicted would happen before that Generation died. (Matthew 24) Also, something that most YEC’er deny!

            So, it is really the YECer’s that fail to understand the significance of sign’s (evidence) and the problems with ignoring them in favor of sacred cows.

            The evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of an Old Earth. Even Morris and Whitcomb admitted that.


          • Jordan,

            If the lumping of things together that don’t belong together deserves the badge of “disingenuous” then you should wear it yourself for asserting that the Bible is promulgating a flat earth and geocentricity as scientific views. I merely lumped together that which goes together: supernatural claims of the Bible (that is, the kind of events that are outside our normative experience).

            I fully agree with you that the Bible is a collection of documents of various genres which must be understood each on its own terms. Nor do I expect the Bible to speak “science.” And for this reason I think its erroneous to think of its cosmology as anachronistic. After all, our weathermen still speak of sunrise and sunset and we don’t accuse them of being flat-earthers.

            I infer your guiding line to be that if science can bring no evidence to bear which refutes the biblical account of a miracle we are free to believe it, but otherwise we are to defer to science where any non-normative event is described in the Bible. Have I inferred correctly?

          • Micah, I’m not very familiar with the position of the YEC crowd or the OEC crowd. I am not a scientist and do not wish to become one. I am amazed by scientific discoveries – like the fact that we are currently on the side of a ball which is spinning around at 1,000 mpg while it flies around the sun at 66,000 mph, whose solar system is cruising through the Milky Way at about 432,000 mph…without any of us flying off the ball or even getting chapped lips from the experience. But to go deeper that things like this and what Mr. Wizard might show on Saturdays mornings is not my interest.

            I don’t feel like the Bible is trying to teach me science, so announced “discrepancies” between science and the Bible don’t usually arouse me. But when you guys start telling me I’m foolish to believe something Paul believed, I want to find a way to resolve the tension. However, non-scientists like me need some guideline(s) to navigate such issues because the position you’re taking on Adam and Eve raises other questions whether you admit it or not. Neither becoming a scientists, nor trusting scientists (who don’t all agree anyway), seems practical or desirable. Don’t you have a better solution?

          • Micah,

            I don’t know how old the earth is, but I share your conviction that Jesus kept His promises regarding coming again. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, however, was not His coming, but rather a sign that His coming was near. It occurred sometime not too many years later – certainly within the generation of Jesus and His disciples. I don’t get any more specific than saying “the late 1st Century.”

          • Jordan

            Although I think some hesitation is warranted when scientific claims sometimes contradict apparently historical claims of the Bible, the scientific case against Adam and Eve is supported by enough independent lines of evidence (fossil and genetic) that I think we can safely reject the historicity of an original couple. After all, if we won’t allow evidence from God’s creation to influence our interpretation of the Scriptures, how else can we test the validity of our hermeneutic? Imagine where we’d be today if the Church continued to refuse the testimony of Galileo or Copernicus. The Church believed in geocentrism because it’s in the Bible (in no uncertain terms).

            I’m glad you reject the argument that a slippery slope exists between rejecting the historicity of Adam and Eve and the resurrection of Christ.

          • Jordan,

            That the earth revolves around the sun is a current reality that can be readily understood by various means. I do not believe, however, that this “overturns” the practical cosmology given in the Bible – as evidenced by the fact that we still use this practical cosmology, even if we don’t believe the Bible. The Bible is not a science book, therefore to replace its views with science is to impose on it an anachronistic genre. The views of science should not displace the Bible, but rather be placed alongside it.

            I’m all for comparing the revelation of Scripture to the revelation of creation. However, using genetics and the fossil record to infer the distant past seem a very different matter than using instruments to measure the current relationship of the earth and its sun.

            I don’t concede that a slippery slope does not exist for those of you who have chosen to prefer science’s description of human origins to that provided by the Scriptures. You thereby seem to retain for yourself only the option of believing those miracle accounts in the Scripture that science cannot disprove. Since science requires experimentation in a controlled environment, I don’t see how science can ever prove or disprove a miracle. God is not a trained pet that He should perform at our discretion.

          • Carlos Bovell

            To Mike Gantt:

            Thanks for checking back in to the post. I don’t mind talking about this some more, but unfortunately I’m really pressed for time.

            I want to say again that I do not know presently how to answer your question about how I decide which miracles to defend and which to suspend judgment on. I want to say again that the resurrection is the one I would be most reluctant to abandon.

            That said, I usually approach these kinds of questions from a different angle. I have come to think that many times what seems to me as a “report” of a miracle only comes across as such because of a lack of knowledge on my part about the cultural background within which the gospels (or any of the biblical literature) was created and within which they grew.

            In Matthew 17, for example, Jesus says to Peter: ” go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax.” Is this a miracle?

            I believe miracles are possible, but as an inerrantist, I used to believe this story in Matt 17 had to be one. Now I do not believe this. Either way, inerrantist or no, what if it turns out that “open its mouth, etc.” simply means “go sell it, it will be enough to pay for the tax, etc.” or some other non-miraculous equivalent?

            In this case (forget about inerrancy for a moment), my ignorance is what suggested to me that this is a miracle story when no miracle, in fact, is involved or even intended by the “author.” I would not be surprised that my ignorance of ancient Mediterranean culture is so great that a good number of the miracle accounts in the gospels, for instance, were part of some cultural/literary feature that I am not (yet?) familiar enough with to set up a “rule” for you, particularly one you’d like (I’m sure) to put to a test of consistency.

            This is not to say that all miracles can be explained naturalistically. There is also the likelihood that some miracle stories are just that: miracle stories. There is still a lot for me to learn about genre and to what different uses these were put during biblical composition, transmission and reception.

            Btw, I thought your last question was somewhat off-topic, but I’ll give my two cents anyway: I see no reason to have to “believe” whatever Jesus believed. But more to the point, we don’t have access to what Jesus believed directly, only to a gospel “according to …..” (and here we try to fill in the blank–and there may be a good number of hands involved in that blank) and perhaps even more importantly, received by us, which is no straightforward affair either.

            Grace and peace to you,

        • Jordan

          Mike, you say: “It also follows that Israel, by virtue if its prophets, would keep the one true version.” I think it’s important to point out that even the Bible doesn’t recall “one true version” of the creation story. There are two creation stories in the first two chapters of Genesis alone.

          • Different accounts of the creation no more mean that the Bible doesn’t give us one true account of creation than four gospels mean that it doesn’t give us one true account of Jesus of Nazareth.

          • peteenns

            Mike, as I see it, that is not true. The differences between the creation accounts (and add the mythic elements from the psalter) are of a different sort than Gospels. These synoptic problems are not comparable.

          • Jordan

            Mike, I agree that the gospels point to the central truth of Christ. But if you’re going to argue that the gospels present a single, true version of *history* — as you are arguing in the case of the creation accounts — then I think you’re off the mark. What was the genealogy of Jesus? After how many days did he rise from death? How many times did the rooster crow before Peter denied Jesus? I don’t think simply pointing to the gospels helps your case that Genesis presents accurate history.

          • Jordan,

            Multiple accounts of any major event or series of events will always require some reconciliation of details. As with Christ, so with creation.

          • Pete, bless your heart, you keep repeating yourself without answering the question I am asking. Believe me, I get that you think I’m foolish to believe that Adam and Eve were actual people that God created and from whom we are all descended. What I am trying to get from you is either a catalog of other miraculous events from the Bible which you also consider it foolish to believe (from which I can infer a rule of thumb to guide my Bible reading), or a rule of thumb to guide my Bible reading (from which I can create my own catalog of what miracles to believe and which to disbelieve). I repeat: This is an actual, not a rhetorical, question. Moreover, this is a closing question, not a set up for a “gotcha” moment.

          • peteenns

            MIke, what I am trying to say gently is that your question isn’t a very good one. A catalog of miraculous events? I don’t have one. There is no rule of thumb. And I don’t think you’re foolish for thinking Adam and Eve were “actual people.” I just think you’re wrong.

          • Jordan

            If there are details to reconcile, as you admit, then the Bible cannot record “one true version” of history!

          • Jordan,

            You’re taking my words out of context. I said that Israel’s prophets kept the one true record of creation as distinguished from all the other nations’ creation narratives. In a similar way, the Bible is the one true record of Christ. If you want to speak more technically, however, yes, there are multiple witnesses to each, to strengthen our faith, but that differ in some details. As with Christ, so with creation.

          • Carlos Bovell

            To Mike Gantt (if you are still around),

            I don’t know how to answer your question, but I’d like to offer my thoughts. Personally, I cannot think of any rule that can be consistently applied to help us distinguish between miracles that are to be believed and miracles that should be passed over as literary artistry.

            What I might suggest as a turning point in my own view from a literal Adam to a “literary” Adam is realizing just how embedded the biblical texts are in the cultures from which they derived and, perhaps more importantly, within the cultures where they grew.

            “The Jewish textual and intertextual world” of Christian scripture (as rabbinic scholar Daniel Boyarin calls it) is so full of imagination and playfulness that history almost begins to seem extraneous at times. Sure there is some history, but just how much will always be a matter of debate. It’s the purposes to which the various genres were put (by the original authors–but more importantly by later “editors”) that seems paramount.

            Where does history matter? Most Christians would say at least for the resurrection of Jesus, and we take this on faith. From there, it is hard to tell which miracle is “historical” and which isn’t, but I think reading the Bible primarily in this fashion really does begin to miss the point.

            Scholarship, of course, will continue trying to close the gaps that exist between modern readers and ancient ones, but gaps will always be there and I think there can be plenty of ways to remain “obedient” in the meantime as we all move along in our journeys, each in our own way.


          • Carlos,

            Thanks for your gracious attempt to answer my question. Actually, it was probably more than an attempt, for you are at least saying, as I understand it, that the resurrection of Christ is the only testimony of a miracle in the Bible that you think we should accept.

            While I could certainly concur with you that Christ’s resurrection is the most important miracle – and historical issue miraculous or not, for that matter – to which the Bible testifies, I cannot see how you find peace in your willingness to let “science” be authoritative on every historical fact in the Bible but that one. And since you didn’t give me your standard or rule of thumb, I can only infer that you draw the line here because it’s the only one you feel is worth the fight with “science.”

            However, if in our faith in Christ’s resurrection we believe that He is our example, and if He believed things that “science” says are unbelievable, shouldn’t we at the very least believe the things that the Scriptures say He believed in spite of what “science” says?

          • peteenns

            Michael, you keep returning to demanding from your interlocutors a “rule of thumb.” Why don’t you tell us what yours is. You last paragraph is also a non sequitor.

          • Carlos Bovell

            To Mike Gantt:

            (I’m trying to post my comment again, I think it’s going to appear in the wrong spot the first time I posted it–somewhere in the middle of the conversation above. Hopefully this time around it will appear in the right spot.)

            Thanks for checking back in to the post. I don’t mind talking about this some more, but unfortunately I’m really pressed for time.

            I want to say again that I do not know presently how to answer your question about how I decide which miracles to defend and which to suspend judgment on. I want to say again that the resurrection is the one I would be most reluctant to abandon.

            That said, I usually approach these kinds of questions from a different angle. I have come to think that many times what seems to me as a “report” of a miracle only comes across as such because of a lack of knowledge on my part about the cultural background within which the gospels (or any of the biblical literature) was created and within which they grew.

            In Matthew 17, for example, Jesus says to Peter: ” go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax.” Is this a miracle?

            I believe miracles are possible, but as an inerrantist, I used to believe this story in Matt 17 had to be one. Now I do not believe this. Either way, inerrantist or no, what if it turns out that “open its mouth, etc.” simply means “go sell it, it will be enough to pay for the tax, etc.” or some other non-miraculous equivalent?

            In this case (forget about inerrancy for a moment), my ignorance is what suggested to me that this is a miracle story when no miracle, in fact, is involved or even intended by the “author.” I would not be surprised that my ignorance of ancient Mediterranean culture is so great that a good number of the miracle accounts in the gospels, for instance, were part of some cultural/literary feature that I am not (yet?) familiar enough with to set up a “rule” for you, particularly one you’d like (I’m sure) to put to a test of consistency.

            This is not to say that all miracles can be explained naturalistically. There is also the likelihood that some miracle stories are just that: miracle stories. There is still a lot for me to learn about genre and to what different uses these were put during biblical composition, transmission and reception.

            Btw, I thought your last question was somewhat off-topic, but I’ll give my two cents anyway: I see no reason to have to “believe” whatever Jesus believed. But more to the point, we don’t have access to what Jesus believed directly, only to a gospel “according to …..” (and here we try to fill in the blank–and there may be a good number of hands involved in that blank) and perhaps even more importantly, received by us, which is no straightforward affair either.

            Grace and peace to you,

  • Prof. Enns,

    Thank you for your books; I’ve read I&I and have just completed Evolution of Adam. I love Jesus, and I love to learn.

    Thank you for your courage, and your insightful posts.

    • peteenns

      Thanks, Bill.

  • R-

    Thank you for this post -I enjoyed reading it.

  • Ryan

    Do you believe the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit? Do you believe that man should not live on bread alone, but on EVERY WORD of God? Do you believe what Ps. 119:160 says, “The sum of thy word is truth”? and lastly do you believe the Bible is the Word of God?

    • Jordan

      Ryan, you might try reading Pete’s books, particularly Inspiration and Incarnation, which was written for the express purpose of addressing such questions.

  • Ken Duncan


    Your comments make me think of the old saying, “You want to have your cake and eat it too.” On your understanding, none of the biblical statements about origins actually say anything about what happened. The biblical authors, including Paul, and Jesus himself, whom you seem to want to believe in in some fashion, were wrong about creation, the origin of humanity, the idea of people being made in God’s image, the origin of sin, the origin of death, and countless other core issues. You said in an earlier post that, “The truth of a historical Adam is not judged by how necessary such an Adam appears to be for theology.” That may be, but surely the truth of a theology does hinge directly on the claims it uses as warrant. If the warrants are all wrong, then the theology cannot be true. So, once you have accepted as absolute truth the all-embracing narrative of evolution, you cannot consistently hold that any biblical idea is valid because all the core assertions are wrong. Consider these consequences of your view:
    1. God absolutely did not create humans. We would only be accountable to God if he made us–or so the Bible affirms. Therefore, we are not at all accountable to God, if there is one, because he/she/it had nothing to do with our existence. There is no way around this, and the only reason to believe that some guy 2000 years ago has real relevance for us today now rests on a totally untenable base.
    2. The world is the way it is. It is the way it evolved. There was no Adam, so there was no Fall. Since there was no Fall, there is zero reason to think that there is such a thing as sin. So a core New Testament idea, that Jesus died for the sins of the world is literally non-sense because there is no such thing as sin. There’s no need for an Eschaton because everything is just the result of evolution. There’s nothing wrong to be fixed. We’re all fine, just the way we are, from the Mother Teresa’s to the sex traffickers of the world. I don’t need forgiveness. I’m just doing what my genes require me to do.
    3. If we are going to treat science as this monolithic, inerrant (after self-correction) entity, then we need to accept all that it says. So, just as science says that every living thing came into being through evolution, so science says that nothing happens outside material causes. Since there are not material causes that would generate a soul, or make a miracle, or cause a dead body to rise from the dead, then obviously we are only material entities and Jesus most certainly did not rise from the dead. That’s science FACT!!!!!! This is not a matter of listening only to Richard Dawkins. It’s a matter of looking at the facts of science. No scientist can prove that there is any sort of cause but material causes, so that must therefore mean there are no causes except material causes. So if there is something beyond/outside/separate from our material universe, it has no effect on our universe. So it is total fantasy to believe that there is a god, let alone that it showed up in the person of Jesus, or that if Jesus even existed, which cannot be proven scientifically, it makes any difference. Nor can anyone prove scientifically that there is anything not covered by what science knows. So someone would have to put his fingers in his ears and go nay-nay-nay to ignore the fact that there can’t be anything but the material reality that we see.
    You cannot have your cake and eat it too.

    I would raise with you a final issue that you, John Walton, and others, it seems to me, refuse to acknowledge. This relates to ANE narratives. My specialty is in Luke-Acts and Hellenistic historiography. So when I claim that Acts is a work of Hellenistic historiography, I can define what that means and its implications because Hellenistic historiographers wrote about what they thought they were doing. Lucian, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Thucydides, Josephus, and more, all talk about what they are doing.

    I’m not an ANE expert, but I have done reading in the Enuna Elish, the Sumerian creation story, the Gilgamesh Epic, etc. I have not seen a single statement by any ancient ANE author that would lead me to believe that they were doing anything other than telling exactly what happened. The gods had a conference. They decided to make humans to do work for them. I have no reason to think that the author of the Enuna Elish believed otherwise. Do you know of a text that tells explicitly the methods and properties of such ancient ANE texts?

    Since there is not one, it is, if I may say, patronizing and I think, anti-scholarly, to speak of these texts, including Genesis, as myth. I know that you mean myth in the sense of seeking to convey truths through a narrative that was never intended to be an account of what really happened, but how do you know that? I can’t find any statement in ANE materials to that effect? Nothing tells me the author of the Gilgamesh Epic thought he was creating a fictional story to tell some truth he believed. This is imputing beliefs to these ancient people that you have no basis for.

    Furthermore, is it not hermeneutically irresponsible to say that Genesis 1-11 is myth, but suddenly when we get to Genesis 12, now we are being told something that might have happened? Where do you get that hermeneutic from? Oh, that’s right. You said that the patriarchal narratives don’t represent history but the grappling of the biblical authors with God. How do you know that? I have no reason to think that the biblical authors did not believe that Abraham existed and was called by YHWH from Haran. I have no reason to believe that the biblical authors understood Jacob as more of a symbol and it didn’t matter to them if he existed. I’m not saying what the meaning of anything in Genesis is. I am saying that to interpret it correctly, I need a hermeneutic, and no one in the ANE provides one. So now what do we do? We do not invent the category of myth and affirm that all ANE texts were done with some modern definition of myth in mind. That’s not responsible scholarship.

    So come on, Peter. Let’s all be intellectually honest. We believe science. That Bible stuff is full of anti-scientific nonsense, and we all KNOW it. So let’s dispense with any nonsense about a Jesus who could not have come from Adam, or Abraham, or David, could not have died for sin, and could not have risen from the dead. Let’s be scientific and sleep in on Sunday mornings. That’s what I MUST do if I believe that all life evolved from a single cell four billion years ago. There is no choice. Indeed, on an evolutionary model, there really is no choice. I am nothing but my genes, and they determine what I think and what I do. I’m totally non-responsible for any of it.

    • peteenns

      Dan, I did not read this last comment. It is far too long. And judging from your other comments, my sense is that you may be jumping into issues over which you have great passion but little nuanced understanding. Scattered throughout are some genuine discussion points, but unfortunately they are lost in your longwinded and condescending rhetoric. I will leave to others to engage with you if they wish to.

      • Jordan

        I don’t get the impression that Ken is particularly interested in dialogue, anyway.

  • Why can’t there be one pair to whom we all trace our ancestry even if it is also true that we all trace our ancestry to a pool of homo sapiens that numbered many thousands of years ago? Where is the logical problem with this explanation?

    • peteenns

      How can it be both?

      • Let’s say that there was some time in the past where, according to the genetic data, we (humans) collectively can trace our ancestry to 10 individuals. It can still be the case that descendants of TWO of those individuals are in the ancestry of ALL of us because the offspring of those two at some point interbred with the offspring of the other 8, at least when it comes to our ancestry. Put that way, it is perfectly logically possible that for all of the other EIGHT individuals, at least one of their descendants AND one of the descendants of the TWO interbred in the ancestry of every living Homo sapien. And so we all (also) trace back to the original TWO.

        There is a strange consequence of this IF you hold that every Homo sapien and their descendants are made in the divine image and are capable of a relationship with God. It is this: all of those descended from the OTHER EIGHT who did not yet interbreed with the descendants of the TWO would be without original sin. So why not just annihilate the TWO and allow the descendants of the EIGHT to carry forward the divine image without sin? The answer would have to be: those OTHER EIGHT were NOT made in the divine image and were NOT capable of a relationship with God. The result? Being made in the divine image is something more than JUST being a Homo sapien. What is it? Who knows–maybe: having an immortal soul! In any case, there is nothing inconsistent, impossible, or improbable here, and it preserves an original pair for all of us, and thus a historical Adam.

        • peteenns

          Are you aware of any geneticists who hold to this?

          • I am not sure that anyone affirms this but I also suspect that no one has thought of it. The only ones who would be motivated to look for such a view would be those who, for theological reasons, are looking for a unique ancestral pair. I suspect that Christian evolutionary theorists have not considered it because it has one implicit assumption that makes it hard to first entertain. That assumption is that not all homo sapiens are necessarily persons made in the divine image. In other words, on this view, it would only be the initial pair among the large group, and their descendants, who are divine image bearers. So the remainder who have no ancestral connection to that pair might well be homo sapiens, but would not be divine image bearers. That is not so strange if becoming a divine image bearer means having some special conferred on you over and above your animal species. There is one other strange consequence and that is that, on this view, no descendants in the present generation would have ancestors in that ancestral generation that do not include “Adam and Eve.” So if there were the original ten, NO present homo sapiens would descend from the other EIGHT exclusively. It is odd that the exclusive descendants of the eight never made it to the present. But it is not a barrier to the plausibility of the view.

  • James

    As I was taught at WTS, if it is special revelation that forms the foundation of the epistemology of the believer, then science is to serve a ministerial rather than a magisterial role as we reason. I don’t know if you would agree with that statement but when you write in your point 6, for example, that “the entire question turns on whether Paul’s comments on Adam are prepared to settle what can and cannot be concluded about human origin on the basis of scientific investigation,” is it fair to say that you are allowing science to shape in a foundational way your hermeneutical approach to understanding Paul? Am I simply burying my head in the sand and being intellectually dishonest if I determine to allow my literalistic reading of Scripture to shape how I approach and understand the scientific findings that seem to run counter to, for example, Paul’s understanding of a historical Adam rather than the other way round? I guess I just feel that ultimately it comes down to a matter of obedience for me (not presuming to make any argument that others must follow). In terms of our subject, to me it is similar to the requirement given to Adam in the Edenic probation to obey God simply because He is God. I choose to believe in a historical Adam because I believe that God has presented that as a truth in Scripture I must accept, and that I must be obedient to accept that claim regardless of whether all the scientists in the world tell me I am wrong. I don’t think that I’m being intellectually dishonest/naive or that I’m just blindly standing with tradition to take that position. I am not trying to be polemical here in any way – I honestly would appreciate your thoughts. Forgive me if these thoughts fall under the “asked and answered” in one of your books category – if that’s the case, if you could just point me in the right direction I’d be grateful.

    • peteenns

      James, as you know, I went to WTS and am familiar with the language you are using. It’s a great idea until you are left to account for biblical and extra-biblical phenomena. I have gone round and round on these things with Van Tiliam apologists, asking them to show me how the Bible is their epistemic foundation while giving credible account of the very non-systemic way the Bible behaves and how clearly it exhibits the cultural limitations of its writers. The “you’re putting science over BIble” is a red herring that betrays a simplistic grasp of either. I would also encourage you that this is not a matter of obedience. There are many thing in the BIble you don’t obey because you have already addressed these issues–implicitly or explicitly–with a hermeneutical grid. The Adam issue is another one where this needs to be done.

      • James

        Thanks for the response Dr. Enns. I’ll need to chew on this some more.

  • Pete and Carlos,

    The comment nesting above was confusing to navigate so I’ve moved to the bottom of the thread.


    This is my response to your comment above.  Both you and Carlos accused me of a non sequitur.  Ironically, it was the answer to your question.  That is, my rule of thumb for deciding what to believe in and about the Scriptures is what Jesus believed in and about them.


    This is my response to your comment above.  Like you, I am open to the possibility that I may be attributing the miraculous to a passage of Scripture only based on my inadequate or inaccurate understanding of what the passage is saying.  However, this does not lead me to the broad concession you seem to be making regarding all biblical miracles besides the resurrection.

    Pete and Carlos,

    Two points, one mechanical and the other spiritual.

    I, too, operate a WordPress blog so I know that it offers the blog owner the option of allowing those who comment on a post to check a box when they want to be notified of any new comments to that post.  Your blog does not offer that check box and so the only way to  know if new comments have been made is to return to the site from time to time.  This is, of course, an inefficient use of time.  It’s all the more inefficient in a case like this where there are many comments and they are nested – requiring lots of searching on the page.  I had some other reason to return here yesterday; otherwise, I wouldn’t have seen your recent comments.  I don’t know when I might return to this particular post again.  So, if you would like to make it more convenient for those who would read and comment, please consider adding that check box.   Of course, if you’d rather people like me stay away, you’ll probably prefer your current practice 😉

    I do not wish to come across as “demanding” a rule of thumb, as you put it, Peter.  I do, however, think my question is legitimate and appropriate.  You fellows seem more articulate about what you don’t believe than about what you do believe.  I don’t necessarily have a problem with your saying that science causes you to re-think your view of certain biblical passages.  However, there are people who deny every miracle in the Bible including the resurrection based on science.  I’m trying to find out what makes you different from them.  It doesn’t seem like an unreasonable question.

    • peteenns

      So your rule of thumb is that Jesus trumps science.

  • Zealot

    Kevin Deyoung’s second point, “The opening chapters of Genesis are
    stylized, but they show no signs of being poetry,” is by far his
    weakest. I’ve never heard anybody claim that Genesis is poetry; rather,
    the claim is that it is an allegory or a parable. I think the word fable
    works well to describe the Genesis story, but the connotations of the
    word would make people hesitant to use it.

    Furthermore, poetry need not describe fictional events any more than narrative need describe history. Much of the poetry in Psalms describes real events in the life of King David; for example Psalms 3 describes him fleeing from Absolom. The story of the prodigal son is relayed in a narrative format, yet
    there is no debate in Christianity about the existence of a “historical
    prodigal son.”

    DeYoung admits that the story is “stylized,” which seems to imply that the story has fantastic elements. A talking snake, for example, is not proof that the story is fictional, because God could create such a snake, but it implies that the story might be a parable. Talking animals are a staple of parables, allegories, and fables; see “Aesop’s Fables” or the “Panchatantra.”

  • Fritz Harms

    Just came upon this blog discussion. I have not ever joined one in my life and after this is written I plan to exit this blog again. I know this is not fair to Dr. Enns… My gut-response to what I hear you say in response to KDY is: Friend, let’s call a spade a spade. You are a liberal. How can you not be. At some point one needs to be willing to say that a natural reading of the sacred text (Paul’s esp) suggests that his entire soteriology stands of falls on the historicity of Adam. If you cannot accept that, lets be brave and admit that any other view than that falls outside of biblical Christianity.
    Fritz Harms

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