did the apostle Paul (or God) believe in a literal Adam?

did the apostle Paul (or God) believe in a literal Adam? December 26, 2013

Many Christians are concerned that Adam in the book of Genesis is to be understood as a “first” human of some sort–either literally so or “first” in terms of importance.

In my book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, I spend half its pages talking about what I think is the heart of the issue for many Christians: not how to read Genesis, but how to read Paul, who appeals to the Adam story twice in his letters (Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15) to make a point about the human condition and how Jesus came to deliver humanity from that condition.

For Paul, Adam seems to be the first human. As the logic goes, if Adam was not the first human in some sense of the word “first,” then Paul’s subsequent arguments about Jesus fixing what Adam broke are likewise wrong. An extreme form of that argument is that the gospel itself crumbles to the ground if Adam was not the first human.

Of course, this is why many Christians freak out about evolution, and so either turn away from it like they just saw a car wreck, or work overtime to “reconcile” evolution and Christianity, usually by inserting an “Adam” of some sort into the evolutionary scheme. I find neither option remotely viable.

My argument in the second half of The Evolution of Adam is that Paul did indeed understand human origins in the way that you would expect ancient people to, namely an original first pair. I explain in my book in more detail why I think this and, more importantly, why this has no bearing on whether or not the gospel is true.

Another approach taken by some Christians, however, is to suggest that Paul wasn’t a “literalist” when it came to Adam, but understood him figuratively. We shouldn’t assume, as is often done, that Paul was a modern fundamentalist with no literary sensitivity, stuck on equating “truth” with “it literally happend.” James Dunn, for example, in his commentary the book of Romans, makes this point, as do others.

I have always considered this interpretation of Paul to be possible, though I took a different approach in my book.

I treated Paul as a “literalist” about Adam for 2 reasons:

1. I was deliberately taking the worst case scenario for Christian theology–that Paul was wrong about Adam as the first human–and exploring the implications of that scenario. Even if Paul understood Adam literally, we do not need to and yet what Paul says about Jesus remains.

If that train of thought is convincing (see the book), the head-on collision between evolution and Christianity is averted. Though other philosophical and theological problems certainly remain, at least the hermeneutical issue is reframed.

2. I also treat Paul as a literalist about Adam because the issue, as I see it, isn’t how he handles his Bible. Rather, the issue is what we can reasonably assume of Paul as an ancient person thinking about human (and cosmic) origins.

It seems most defensible–least complicated–to see Paul as an ancient person (duh) who simply accepted as a natural course of events that, if all babies (animal or human) came from the union a male and female, then working backwards you’d have to conclude that somewhere back in primordial time God made the first two humans capable of procreation.

That is the biblical scenario in Genesis and in antiquity as a whole, and Paul accepted it in due course as a base point for discussion. Reason #2 is the main reason for why I also accepted reason #1.

Having said that, if James Dunn and others are right, that Paul was not bound to ancient ways of thinking, but understood Adam figuratively, then the whole discussion of Adam and evolution shifts somewhat dramatically, I would think.

Of course–and here is our thought for the day–if Paul did rise above ancient assumptions of human origins when talking about Adam figuratively, then we can conclude that Paul did so by divine revelation. In which case, the Spirit inspired Paul to understand Adam figuratively, meaning that God doesn’t think Adam was the literal first human either.

In any case, I’m fine with Paul being a “figurativist,” though, as I said, reason #2 above seems a more reasonable starting point. I would need to see some support for why Paul thought of human origins differently that other ancients did, especially other ancient Jews armed with the book of Genesis and its account of human origins.


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  • Though this issue is now somewhat settled in my mind, I understand its immense importance. As an inerrantist, I still came to see Genesis as an ancient document that intended something other than an historical recounting of creation.

    However, it soon occurred to me that this would mean that Paul was mistaken in his understanding of Adam–Paul would not be inerrant, and this precipitated a year of crisis for me in which I grieved the loss of God. I recount this and my recovery at http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/about-tim-chastain/my-spiritual-crisis/.

    I still believe Paul was mistaken about Adam, but I question your statement that, “If Paul did rise above ancient assumptions of human origins when talking about Adam figuratively, then we can conclude that Paul did so by divine revelation. In which case, the Spirit inspired Paul to understand Adam figuratively.”

    Why should we conclude that if Paul understood Adam figuratively he would have been informed by divine revelation. I did not come to this conclusion by divine revelation; I doubt that you did either.

  • Tim Coomar

    Dr Enns, I say this without denying your undoubted excellence as a scholar and sincerity as a believer… but the chronological snobbery of your whole position in this article is simply staggering. I know you are not claiming that ‘all’ things ancient are by definition wrong/mistaken, but by assuming that the modern evolutionary paradigm ‘simply is’ superior to the ancient paradigm, you have hermetically sealed a discussion (the explanatory power of of the neo-Darwinian account of origins) that is at the very least still open – and opening up all the time (I myself was skeptical of ID until recently).

    At the very least you could insert a caveat here and there along the lines of “assuming that evolution is true, which is by no means certain, but I myself am sufficiently convinced at this moment in time. Don’t take my word for it, read Dawkins/Meyer for yourself.” Please do forgive my polemic if you have said something like this somewhere in your writings and I have missed it…

    To give you an idea of how this comes across, forget about me for a second and imagine that you have the apostle Paul in front of you and you are trying to comfort him for being wrong. What are you going to say? “It’s ok. How were you to know? Don’t beat yourself up about this. Modern science was not yet invented. It wasn’t your fault that you based your whole theology on a mythical, non-existent figure.”

    In other words, are you so confident (self-assured) in the secular academy that you can’t even entertain the prospect of a future Peter Enns with cowed head, having to explain his theology/interpretation in light of the ‘abandonment’ of evolutionary theory ‘by the secular academy itself’? Why should Paul’s assumptions about origins be viewed as ‘baggage’ and your/modern assumptions about origins as the necessary corrective to this baggage?

    Finally, correct me if I am wrong, but ‘if’ Paul did indeed write about Adam as a literal figure – as you are prepared to accept – then why on earth do these words not apply? – “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

    • Stewart Felker

      The worst thing about the democratization of knowledge is that it’s much easier for people to think they’re experts on things that they’re actually totally wrong about. This would apply to people like Stephen Meyer and, certainly, people like yourself – people who make pronouncements like “…assuming that evolution is true, which is by no means certain…”, as if this uncertainty could be sustained at all, in light of what we know about biology and evolution. Stop reading books published by HarperOne or DI, and try opening up the most recent issue of JEB or MBE instead, and see how you fare.

      The idea in 2 Peter 1:20-21 comes from the same pre-critical perspective that a belief in a literal Adam (or Noah, et al.) does. But, of course, the Petrine epistles are pseudepigraphical – so if you want to do some sort of apologetics for that, you can always just say that Peter didn’t _really_ dictate/write it.

      • Tim Coomar

        “The worst thing about the democratization of knowledge is that it’s much easier for people to think they’re experts on things that they’re actually totally wrong about.”

        Yes, like a Biblical scholar passing himself off as an expert in biology I suppose…

        My dear Felker, what would you rather have us do? Read nothing and have it spoon-fed to us by the ‘experts’…? (God forbid) Or read everything and have those same so-called experts bemoan the day they allowed mere mortals access to their precious learning?

        What goes up… must come down. Just as the pre-critical perspective is ridiculed today, so the current prevailing perspective will most assuredly be the laughing stock tomorrow. The post-critical era is already here, in case you hadn’t noticed… Dr Enns’ theological project might seem progressive and new in the world of evangelicalism (we have always been several decades behind) but in the grander scheme of things, it is virtually on its way out.

        Finally, with regard to the general point about snobbery, you actually couldn’t have made my point for me any better. Without knowing zip about what the other party has read, you immediately dismiss them and their position out of hand simply for violating the particular status quo you have subscribed to. Smacks more of desperate flailing than quiet confidence.

        Unfortunately the tactic of denouncing dialogue partners and smearing them as unlearned/stupid/naive/tribal will neither shut them up – as is no doubt the intended effect – nor will it bear fruit long-term. Eventually people will start to wonder what you are so nervous about…

        • The problem with placing Dawkins against Meyer is that Dawkins is a biologist and Meyer is a philosopher. Apples and oranges.

          • AHH

            And much mischief ensues both when Dawkins opines about philosophy and theology (which he does much too often) and when Meyer (and the other lawyers and philosophers in the ID movement) opines about biology.

          • Dawkin’s opinions on philosophy and theology you can take or leave – just like my opinions. On biology, he is brilliant!

            Meyer and the the Discovery Institute lawyers are in a different category altogether, attempting to influence science education through any means possible, most recently partnering with young earth creationists to stack the board of education in Texas against evolutionary science in textbooks.

        • Stewart Felker

          “Yes, like a Biblical scholar passing himself off as an expert in biology I suppose…”

          Who is this supposed to be? Peter Enns? Me? Any other Biblical scholar who has the hardly conceivable, barely-precedented distinction of also being familiar with the academic consensus about evolution? I’d be happy to demonstrate the myriad methodological and factual errors that people like Stephen Meyer make.

          “My dear Felker, what would you rather have us do? Read nothing and have it spoon-fed to us by ‘experts’…?”

          Better to be spoon-fed by experts than to be deceived by crackpots.

          And what the hell is the “post-critical era”? I must have missed the part where mainstream Biblical scholarship decided that the whole project was useless and reverted back to apologetics. And please don’t tell me that you think Tektonics or Answers in Genesis (or even some of the people associated with the Evangelical Theological Society) is/are the vanguard of a new “era” of “scholarship.”

          “Without knowing zip about what the other party has read…”

          I know enough to know that you that think that the truth-value of evolution is “by no means certain” – which tells me a lot. And you also specifically mentioned [Stephen] Meyer in a context that implied that you accept his conclusions.

  • Great analysis — clear and well points, though I don’t agree with all. But I do have a related question:

    Some gospel authors have their Jesus refers to Moses to make some of his points too. Yet Moses is largely accepted as a contrived story – albeit a useful myth.

    I’d imagine you’d feel that either Jesus buying into the Moses myth (esp given that some feel he should be omniscient), or Jesus using an untrue story to make his point could be just like Paul’s use of Adam and (as you said) “has no bearing on whether or not the gospel is true.”


    • peteenns

      Correct, Sabio. Incarnation does not “require” omniscience, which is a popular misunderstanding. In fact, true incarnation requires the opposite.

      • Right, that is what I thought the position is for many non-literalists.

        I’m reading The Mahabharata to my daughter now, and as she is dazzled by these stories (much more colorful than the Tanakh), she sometimes asks, “Did they really believe that?” The answer is “Yes, most do, but a relatively small number of liberal Hindus (like some of our friends) see them mostly as literary vehicles.”

      • Lars

        Just a thought, but wouldn’t true incarnation, assuming that means being fully human, also require being bound by the laws of physics? If not, why is omniscience off the table? Did Jesus forget everything he knew prior to his incarnation so that he truly believed God had forsaken him, or was that just another literary embellishment? If he knew he would be crucified and then resurrect three days later, as was prophesied (though one also wonders if it could have just as easily been three hours or three weeks later), it indicates some level of omniscience on Jesus’ part. If Jesus at least implies a belief in a historical Adam, Noah, and Moses, is he just ‘playing along’ or does he truly believe they existed??

        • Percival

          I like that phrase: “some level of omniscience.” It’s like this morning when I woke up strong and I felt I had some level of omnipotence.

          • You must be young – I haven’t had that feeling in decades!

  • Brian P.

    Adam didn’t literally happen and can still be true. Resurrection didn’t literally happen and can still be true. Yawn.

  • Bill Norton

    Dr. Enns, How and why does this matter and to whom?

    And when you say many Christians, I wonder who you are talking about. Are these mostly the Sem profs and their circles or a group of loosely affiliated bloggers and their followers?

    Down here in the streets and among the Christians I meet at the bookstore where I work, Adam is Adam, as the OT describes him and Paul referring to that Adam and not to Dunn’s figuratized Adam.

    Regardless, how does what they believe, even if incongruent with your research and conclusions, matter?


    Bill Norton

    • Brian P.

      Yup. But… What’s great about the Internet, is that it bridges profession, pulpit, and pew in ways not prior so readily accessible. Everybody can now be exposed to everybody else’s theologies, angsts, hopes, etc. in unprecedented ways. Sure, Adam is Adam in nearly every pew. And many see exiting the church’s door for once and for all and for good as the only other viable alternative. Personally, I can’t fault them. Bill, this is where I think such possibly could matter. Give it a few decades and I think clergy will need to be more and more choosing between their received recent modern theologies of their priors’ and a funding base for the future. And also, I doubt there too far into the future will be much funding for academics discussing whether or not there ever was an Adam.

      • Brian, I agree with you. I believe it does matter, and it matters a lot.

        Once a thoughtful person realizes that the Genesis creation accounts are not historical, it begins to change their entire understanding of the Bible and theology.

        • dangjin1

          Yet you present no real evidence that Genesis is NOT historical? You cannot appeal to the work of unbelievers, including those who claim to be christian yet accept unbelieving thought as truth, because they have no interest in proving the Bible true or historical.

          The Bible has all the evidence, the secular world does not.

          • I am not interested in persuading anyone to adopt my views on the non-historicity of the Genesis creation accounts, so I am not willing to argue for the sake of argument.
            Presenting my view would take considerable interaction, and I am unwilling to commit that time for someone who is not open. And based on your comment on Paul elsewhere on this post, my guess is that you are not open to dialog.

          • What dangjin means by “unbeliever” is anyone who doesn’t believe exactly what he believes.

          • Bryan

            Apparently this person has some sort of “unmediated” access to the right hand of God in which interpretation does not ever apply because instantaneous knowledge is ascertained when one is in such close proximity to God. As for the rest of us mortals, we shall have to proceed by mediating our conclusions with an “interpretation.”

          • Bryan

            The “Bible”, as you have collectively referred to it, is not simply a “historical” book. The Proverbs or Song of Songs would not fall into this category. Therefore, we do not need something to be historical in order to extract truth from it. And yes, we can rely on unbelievers to tell us that 2+2=4. This is still a true statement regardless of their state of belief.

  • mark

    I just can’t see any evidence that Paul was dogmatic about human origins, that he had much if anything invested–in a theological sense–in that issue. If he even saw it as an issue. Since “original” sin is an obvious misreading of both Paul and Genesis, there’s no reason to think that Paul saw any particular theory of human origins as theologically important. What Paul may have assumed about human origins as an individual would appear to be of strictly academic interest.

    • Rick

      “Since “original” sin is an obvious misreading of both Paul and Genesis, there’s no reason to think that Paul saw any particular theory of human origins as theologically important.”

      Good thought, and that is perhaps why the Eastern Orthodox do not see a problem.

    • Stewart Felker

      It wasn’t so obvious a misreading that it was absent from Second Temple Judaism or other literature roughly contemporary with that of the NT. You can find it in Ben Sira (= Sirach/Ecclesiasticus), 4 Ezra, and possibly a vague hint in 1 Enoch 69 (though here it’s moreso _death_ than sin). Of course, there was another popular etiology for ‘original sin’ from the same time period, found in the Enochic literature and other places – one similarly placed in the primeval era, but ascribed to the influence of the Watchers (=fallen angels). And the NT and early church was most certainly highly influenced by the Enochic lit.

      Coming closer to Pauline literature (or, rather, pseudo-Pauline literature – though most Christians are obligated to accept it as an authentic Pauline epistle, even if it isn’t), there’s the notoriously enigmatic 1 Timothy 2:11-16. Of course, “surface-level” readings of this passage are untenable; but in any case it does seem to be evidence for an early Christian ‘anthropology’ of sorts.

      • mark

        I don’t think either Ben Sira or the similarly misogynistic 1 Timothy contain a true doctrine of original sin/fall. As for the Enochic literature, the reasoning–the early church was influenced by the Enochic lit, ergo original sin is an early Christian doctrine–leaves much to be desired.

        Countering Ben Sira and any similarities that we find in 1 Timothy, what we do know about Jewish and early Christian anthropology is that both subscribed to the two yetzer/tendencies theory, which is a distinctly naturalistic approach. It is echoed repeatedly in the New Testament.

        • Stewart Felker

          Yeah, it’s hard to discern _what_ 1 Tim 2:11-16 is on about. To complicate things even further, I believe that the “…will be saved by childbearing” part might actually be a quotation (or paraphrase) of Hippocratic medical wisdom, referring to the wandering womb – perhaps playing with a double meaning of σῴζω as both ‘heal’ and ‘save’ (as in eschatological salvation, for the latter). But who knows?

          But I’m not so sure about Ben Sira. “From a woman sin had its beginning and because of her we all die” (25:24). Is it fair to say that the author envisions a causal relationship between sin and death here? If so, this might be quite relevant for 1 Cor 15, Romans 8:2, etc.?

          And yes, I didn’t mean to imply that just because early Christianity was influenced by the Enochic literature that original sin must have been the original EC norm. For one, there may in fact be _multiple_ etiologies (or non-etiologies) for sin in various parts of 1 Enoch itself (cf. “sin was not sent to the earth, but the people have created it by themselves,” in ch. 98).

  • Mike Mercer

    Pete, I’ll have to go back and check your book, but at the moment I don’t remember if you deal with this there. Does Paul’s take on Adam synch with the Torah’s picture of Adam as “First Israel”? I’ve always read that as signifying that Adam is “first covenant human, and that Paul’s is comparing Adam and Jesus in a covenant sense: first representative/final representative.

  • Jim

    Whether Paul thought of Adam in a figurative sense (Dunn) or
    more like most ancients (as in your E of A), I don’t have a clue. If Paul attended PU (Pharisee University), your thesis seems least complicated and very rational. But, I
    kinda like the theology that Adam was a real person who passed on a mutation
    called the sin gene (coding tertiary structures with sin amino acid
    sequences). I also go with the idea that Satan and his minions screwed with the
    speed of light, changed radioactive decay kinetics and planted dino bones here
    and there to make the earth look really old. I’ve found that this theology has
    helped me a lot because I don’t have to invest money in any expensive science

  • dangjin1

    Rather, the issue is what we can reasonably assume of Paul as an ancient person thinking about human (and cosmic) origins.”

    The real question is: When are you going to stop treating the Bile like it was some worthless book written by a bunch of ancient moonies instead of the Most Holy God?

    Also, when are you going to stop treating the ancients like they are some inbred, unintelligent morons who need the miraculous work of unbelieving modern science to correct them?

    Then, when will you stop claiming to be a Bible believing Christian when you are neither Bible believing or a Christian?

    Stop leading people to sin against God.

    • Stewart Felker

      “When are you going to stop treating the Bile like it was some worthless book”

      I’m certainly no believer, but I wouldn’t go as far as to call it “bile”!

    • Lars

      Dr. Enns, stopping asking us such hard questions!!! (Btw, at the final judgement, I’m blaming it all on you!)

    • Eric

      I bet you are fun a parties.

    • Jim

      Ancient moonies didn’t have much time to write a bible cause they were too busy pulling their pants down … oops … I thought you were referring to mooners, my misunderstanding.

    • Bryan

      When are you going to stop treating the Bible as a purely docetic enterprise, devoid of any human partnership? When are you going to acknowledge that the ancient people who wrote the scriptures were “culturally” situated? When will you stop making claims about a lack of “Bible believing” when the real issue is an “interpretive” one?

      Pete is attempting to demonstrate how we can hold a different position on Adam without diminishing the concept of sin as it relates to the atoning work of Christ. I don’t think this demonstrates a lack of belief in either God or the Bible but rather upholds it.

      • Lars

        Agreed, Bryan. Can we go even further? If we can assume the Bible isn’t completely inerrant, how about not completely inspired? It is possible that Paul was just giving his own unvarnished opinion, however ill-formed/uninformed it might have been at the time, and not speaking through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration? If we could go there, a lot these “enigmatic” verses could seen as prevailing human wisdom and not necessarily divinely-inspired dictums that must be enforced at any cost.

        • Bryan

          Good point and certainly one that needs recognition.

  • Daniel Merriman

    Whether Paul understood Adam literally or figuratively is perhaps not as important as what he was doing– interpreting scripture. Jesus interpreted scripture. Later books of the OT interpret earlier stories, sometimes not at all literally. Surviving texts from the second temple period that didn’t make the canon for either Jews or Christians provide interpretations of canonical texts. Is it all unlikely that, when Jews and Gentiles gathered together in Rome and first listened to Paul’s letter being read that some of them might have thought Adam literally existed and that some thought Adam was just another character in a different cultures creation story? Regardless, would any of them have missed the point of Paul’s interpretation?

    I have mentioned before in various threads here James Kugel’s ” How to Read the Bible” as has another frequent commenter Bev Mitchell. I have read recently that Kugel considers the book a failure largely because its title grossly overstated his intention in writing the book. He wanted to title it ” The Bible and its Ancient Interpreters” The plain and simple fact of the matter is that the writers of the New Testament (and the character it bears witness to,Jesus) were interpreters of the OT and rarely if ever could be caught using the grammatical historical methodology that is required today. It is mind boggling to think that their original audiences would not have understood what was going on.

    • Richard Worden Wilson

      The intent, and value, of “using the grammatical historical methodology,” is desiring above all else to know what the authors of the NT were trying to communicate to people in that particular historical context. A worthy goal. The alternative to using some such hermeneutic inevitably involves assuming that our own interpretive matrix is just as inspired as that of the NT authors–I personally don’t think we should go there. Yes, the NT authors appear to be free-form re-interpreters of just about every OT prophecy they adduce, but the mantle of that authority doesn’t seem to me to be one we should wrap around our shoulders unless specifically called by God and inspired by His Holy Spirit to do so. All the best to all in Christ.

      • Daniel Merriman

        Have you read Kugel? He is rather clear that the methodology of the ancient scripture interpreters was not “free form.” It is not at all necessary to assume that the contemporary reader is claiming any sort of inspiration if he or she recognizes that the authors of the NT handled texts in a manner that wouldn’t be approved by the enforcers of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy or Hermenutics.

  • Kevin

    Dr. Enns,
    Perhaps your question about Paul actually presents a false dilemma. Is it not much more compelling to think that Paul viewed Adam as an historical figure who functions in the ancient story as a metaphor of every man. These ideas are not contradictory. They add a complementary layer of meaning to narrative. This would make more sense of his reference to the historical Jesus as the second Adam. Inspiration explains Paul’s ability to perceive the interpretation of the meaning of history.

    • AHH

      I think what you propose is not inconsistent with what is in Dr. Enns’ book.
      The idea that Paul was using the Adam character in the well-known story as a literary tool to make his point about the universal sinfulness of humanity (and, more so, the scope of the reconciliation brought about by the Messiah). Paul may well have thought of the Adam character as a real individual as most in his culture would have, but that wasn’t really a question he was concerned with one way or the other — his focus was making points about Jesus.

  • Nancy R.

    If Paul had been divinely inspired to view Adam as figurative rather than literal, then why would he have written of him in such a way to make him appear as a historical person? Romans 5:12 – “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” – reads as though it was written by someone who understood a causal relationship between the sins of the first people, and the subsequent sin and death of all.

  • Nancy R.

    Of course, God only believes what is actually true – the notion that the Holy Spirit believed in a non-existent Adam merely because he did not correct Paul’s false but reasonable understanding, is quite facetious. It is not necessary to believe that the Holy Spirit corrects us, or the writers of scripture, in every way in the process of divinely inspiring us.

  • Nicodemus was a literalist. Jesus had to instruct him how to take things literarily, not literally. So at least once, literalists are forced to interpret the Bible correctly. But the lesson is lost everywhere else.

    • Kaleb Penner

      Nicodemus was not a literalist!

      Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

      Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time, can he?”

      Nicodemus was not an idiot, as most people believe he was. (He thought Jesus was talking about a PHYSICAL rebirth! Boy was he clueless!!) As if you become THE TEACHER in Israel by being so dense…like, Give the guy SOME credit!

      Nicodemus knew Jesus wasn’t speaking literally, he knew exactly what Jesus meant. Jesus was telling him to go back to beginning. Jesus was telling him to start all over at nothing. And He knew that. He also had the sense to realize that was impossible for anyone, especially someone who was old and set in his ways, as he sense he himself was. His comment about climbing into the womb was his figurative way of saying “Jesus, what you are saying is impossible. It is as impossible as me climbing back in my mothers womb.”

      Yet that is exactly what must happen to him, and Jesus says it doesn’t matter that it is impossible for you. It must happen before you can even see the kingdom of God, let alone enter. Of course you can’t, but the Spirit can.

      Nicodemus problem was not that he was a literalist; he was tracking Jesus figure of speech quite well.

      His problem was that he needed to be born again.

      • Nicodemus was indeed a literalist when he interpreted “born again” as needing to “enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time.”

        > he knew exactly what Jesus meant

        That’s why he was asking questions, right?

  • Why do believing scholars like Peter Enns and Denis Lamoureux think that God was unable or unwilling to convey to and through the prophets the idea of evolution? Moreover, why did He give the prophets a paradigm for an event they did not and could not witness that is contradictory to what actually happened? (That is, separate living things, each reproducing after its own kind clashes with all living things proceeding from a common ancestor; it is not as though the essence of evolutionary theory cannot be conveyed without access to a microscope.)

    • I think the question is not whether God was unable or unwilling to explain evolution, but that the Bible is not meant to be an encyclopedia of science and history. It is the story of man’s growing understanding of God–and finally the appearance of Jesus.

      Sections of the Bible are appropriate to, and a product of, the age and sophistication in which they were written. If 200 years ago God had suddenly revealed to us the physics we know today, it would have been incomprehensible. If he were to reveal everything about physics today, we could not grasp it.

      Why do we expect God to tell us everything when that is not his purpose? We learn that God loves us, that we can love each other, and that we have eternal life. What could be more important than that?

      • [The Bible is] the story of man’s growing understanding of God …

        Perhaps instead, we keep seeing “God” as a word to justify whatever values and groups that the user is fond of. We do indeed see our “understanding of ‘God'” changing over time — but not because their is a god to understand.

        • Hi Sabio,

          I understand what you are saying, and I think you are right to a great extent. However, I believe there IS a Father that Jesus tells us about; he loves us, desires our reconciliation, and offers us eternal life.

          • I understand your perspective too and can understand how you are personally tied into the creator of the universe and communicate with him must feel good.

      • jesuswithoutbaggage,

        You have misunderstood my question. I did not ask why God didn’t explain the theory of evolution to the prophets. I asked why He gave them paradigms that conflict with it. For example, the Genesis account of creation depicts separate categories of living things created, each reproducing after its own kind while the theory of evolution teaches all living things being produced from common ancestry (“tree of life”) over elongated periods of time. That is, the Genesis account could just as easily have told the story in terms of common descent and long periods of time instead of separate descent and very short periods of time. The question I’m raising is why wouldn’t God use myths, parables, or other fictions – if that’s what they are – less at odds with the reality He knew we would one day discover?

        • Rick

          I think you ask a good question, but it assumes that the “method” was the thing God was trying to teach, and it assumes that your suggestion would have been the best for that culture.

          • Rick,

            I am not assuming that God was trying, or should have been trying, to teach the “method” of creation. As far as “method” goes, we’re told He did it by His word, and I’m content with that. I am only saying that it strikes me as odd that God would give us a creation account that would clash starkly with the scientific truth He knew would one day come to light.

            This state of affairs can be easilty contrasted with the Scriptures concerning the Messiah which, until the truth was revealed, were cryptic, mysterious, and not easily correlated, but once the truth was revealed, all made much more sense. Are we to believe that the same God is now working in reverse, having His Scriptures become less cohesive and coherent (i.e. labeled as myth with plot points that contradict reality) with the revelation of the truth?

          • Rick

            “I am only saying that it strikes me as odd that God would give us a creation account that would clash starkly with the scientific truth He knew would one day come to light.”
            But what is being described there, and for what purpose? Genre and culture aspects are still being studied and uncovered.
            For example, although God as Creator is clearly indicated from the beginning, John Walton says the rest is giving a description of God’s temple coming into use (as would be recognized in that culture). J. Sailhammer, on the other hand, says it is describing the development of the Promised Land.

          • I see nothing about Walton’s view or Sailhammer’s view that would require the Genesis creation account to use imagery and analogy that conflicts with evolutionary theory (e.g. creation by kinds rather than from single ancestor, creation in days rather than in billions of years, creation by fiat rather than by unattended process).

            Again, God used imagery to promise Messiah, imagery that seemed to clash until the truth became known. Yet with respect to the truth of creation we have exactly the opposite – imagery that doesn’t clash UNTIL the truth is known?

          • Kaleb Penner

            I have followed this whole discussion here and completely agree with Mike.

            Scripture only clashes with scientific truth if you attempt to hold both with equal authority. The scriptures ought to be interpreted by itself only, according to the spirit of Christ. Importing evolutionary theory as a framework by which the Bible ought to be understood does nothing to help a believer understand Christ and his salvation; and that is a best case scenario.

            One can, and millions have, come to a blessed knowledge of Christ completely apart from evolutionary theory; yet by trying to bring evolutionary theory along for the ride, many get sidelined.

            As Mike said, God created the world by his word. He spoke it into existence. God said he created so that everything reproduces after its own kind. The Bible says Jesus is upholding the physical universe by the word of his power. That is all someone needs to know, they are not helped spiritually by trying to go beyond this, as man is to live by the word of God.

            I’ll end with this; the biggest reason I reject a long drawn out evolutionary beginning and accept that Genesis speaks of a spontaneous creation:
            It’s 2 Corinthians 4:6.

            For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

            This is a verse that describes regeneration / conversion / the new birth. The new testament describes this as a spontaneous act of God in a persons life, and though it is described a number of ways, it is ALWAYS spontaneous. There is no journey of salvation, there is a moment of salvation. It is the moment they are transferred from death to life, out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of Christ, the moment they entered into the kingdom.

            And in 2 Cor 4:6, the spontaneous nature of the new birth is compared to the spontaneous nature of creation. In both cases, God calls things that are not into existence by his Word.

            God’s creation was spontaneous according to scripture, just as salvation is a spontaneous act of creation within a spiritually dead person. They go hand in hand. Evolutionary theories of creation distort this parallel, and a hundred other scriptural parallels, and are not beneficial to the spiritual development of God’s people at all.

            Evolutionary theories of creation can be (and should be) rejected outright without any spiritual detriment whatsoever, they carry no advantage in understanding or enjoying the treasures of God stored up in Christ; only the acceptance of a world which cannot hear or accept the things of God. Trying to reconcile them, as Peter Enns seems intent on doing, does nothing to help the true flock of God understand and worship Christ.

          • AHH

            Genesis only “clashes starkly with the scientific truth” if you assume that the inspired writer was intending to communicate scientific concepts, rather than communicating theological truth within the context of the concepts held by his culture.
            Does the statement by Jesus referring to the mustard as the smallest of all seeds similarly bother you? That also clashes starkly with what we now know to be scientific truth.

          • I don’t think that Genesis, or any other book of the Bible, is seeking to convey scientific concepts. The Genesis narrative, however, clashes with the evolutionary paradigm in signficant ways that are impossible to avoid – so much so that Gen 1-11 appears unnecessarily fanciful and misleading, and totally inconsistent with the way He promised and then revealed Messiah.

            The mustard seed reference does not at all seem out of place for a Mediterranean and pre-microscopic context.

        • Mike, you are correct that I did not really address your second question: Why did God give a false paradigm of creation if it did not reflect reality.

          The question assumes that everything in the Bible was ‘given’ by God. I think it is more accurate to say that various people wrote the Bible–with varying levels of insight from God.

          I understand the Genesis creation accounts as written by people who were reflecting on aspects of God’s relationship to us and the world. I do not understand them to have been ‘given’ by God necessarily.

          • Nancy R.

            In the same way, God did not give the writers of Genesis 5-9 a story of a great flood – these stories were already well-known in the ancient near east, and reflected experiences with actual, catastrophic floods. But he inspired a new interpretation of the flood stories, one in which God is angered and distressed by human sin, and eventually redeems a chosen few. The people of the ancient near east already had a variety of creation stories in which a god or gods created people and animals from the earth; common ancestry and evolution weren’t features of any of those stories. What was new, in the Adam and Eve account, was the close relationship with God and with one another, which was then broken by sin.

          • jesuswithoutbaggage,

            I’m sure you are aware that one of the central aspects of the ethos of Israel’s prophets was that they were neither to add to nor take away from the word of God. Surely you cannot imagine anyone with that ethic writing Gen 1 from his own imagination.

            Help me understand where and how you feel comfortable diverging from Jesus’ view that the prophets wrote what we call the Old Testament and that their words therefore were inspired by God.

          • I am not aware that “one of the central aspects of the ethos of Israel’s prophets was that they were neither to add to nor take away from the word of God.”

            But even were that so, I do not see the Old Testament as a consistent collection of documents; it was written by many individuals over a period of perhaps 1000 years.

            I am a devoted follower of Jesus, but I don’t think he indicates that the writer’s of the Old Testament were inspired.

          • What then do you do with passages like John 10:35; Luke 24:25-27; and Matt 5:17-18 (not to mention passages to similar effect written by the apostles who were taught by Jesus)?

            I am actually stunned to hear you say that you don’t think Jesus thought that “the writers of the Old Testament were inspired.” Do you not realize that His endurance of the cross and hope for resurrection was rooted in his conviction that the prophets who wrote the Scripture spoke for his Father in heaven?

          • Hi Mike,

            I believe Jesus’ endurance on the cross and hope for resurrection was rooted in something much more solid than the Old Testament speaking for his Father. It was based on his personal relationship with his Father.

            In John 10 passage, I think Jesus was messing with the
            Jewish opponents who were about to stone him to death for calling himself God (which he didn’t even do). Jesus responded with a word play about ‘gods’. It wasn’t even an argument; it was a word game.

            When he concluded with: If they are gods, and the scripture cannot be set aside…I think he was referring to their treatment of scripture–not his.

            Do you accept Jesus’ other implication here, that God was talking to other gods, as the Psalmist wrote?

            In Matthew 5, you refer to the very passage that begins my January blogging. Jesus says he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. I believe he fulfilled it by raising behavior beyond legalistic observations to the principles of love and consideration. He completed the law.

            This essentially renders the law void as Jesus shows us the higher principle.

            In the vey next section he begins to compare: the law say ‘do not murder’, but murder is not really the issue; the real issue is how we treat other people all the time. He expects us to follow a principle of reconciliation and not to follow laws.

          • jesuswithoutbaggage,

            I’m with you on how Jesus used the Law of Moses to direct us to something greater. However, I think your understanding of Jesus would be greatly enriched if you were to come to see how He revered the prophets and what they wrote – especially what they wrote about Him.

            A good start would be to use a concordance and study the use of the word “prophet” in the Gospels. Among other things, this study will reveal how Jesus Himself conducted Himself as a prophet and it will reveal both the reliability and efficacy of the Scriptures in the life of a prophet.

          • I am open to your input, but I don’t know how I can have a richer understanding of Jesus than I do now. He is the foundation of my like and all that I do.

            Returning to unfounded presuppositions of inspiration would not make Jesus any greater to me than he already is.

          • Who said anything about “unfounded presuppositions of inspiration”? I encouraged you to study an aspect of the One we will all be studying forever and ever. There is no end of the riches of wisdom and knowledge that are to be found in Him.

          • DMH

            Yes, what has God really “given”? God condescends to our knowledge in his communication- always has, always will. Given his greatness and our limitedness I don’t see how it could be any other way.

  • Peter, you are my favorite blogger and I am not trying to give you a hard time, but I have an honest question.

    I am very interested in your statement:, “If Paul did rise above ancient assumptions of human origins when talking about Adam figuratively, then we can conclude that Paul did so by divine revelation.”

    How do you see Paul receiving this divine revelation? Dreams, visions, vocal prophesy (through Paul or someone else), mental insight? How could Paul know that it was divine revelation or was Paul even aware he was writing under divine revelation?

    How can we conclude with confidence that Paul ‘did so by divine inspiration’?

    • Brian P.

      Love your question. Determining that somebody else had a divine revelation, to me, would some to be harder than determining whether or not one had one oneself. How does one identify and authenticate a deity? Personally, I don’t know how and I don’t know how others do it.

    • peteenns

      I don’t conclude that personally, though I certainly see that is a reasonable conclusion from what I wrote. I was trying to zero in on an irony that. In evangelical apologetics, it is a mark of revelation that biblical writers regularly are said to rise above their contemporaries. By employing that argument here, we would have the irony of a Paul being inspired to interpret Adam figuratively, which is inimical to evangelical apologetics. That is what I was tying to get across, though I did so sloppily. Good catch.

      • Thank you Peter.

        I understand your statement now; I simply missed that you were speaking in the thought of an opponent. I should have realized that because I’ve read your blog for almost a year and this statement, as I understood it, seemed inconsistent. In fact, it is an excellent argument.

        Thanks for your kind explanation; it was my reading that was sloppy!

      • Norman

        Pete I provided you with a reason why Paul wasn’t a literalist and it has nothing to do with divine inspiration. He was reflecting already developed figurative concepts. Why haven’t you interfaced with this very likely concept that Paul was a product of. It seems more reasonable to think Paul was versed in 2nd T literary concepts that were already on the table.
        I would really like to see you deal with this idea extensively sometime soon because it solves a lot of the problems you are raising.

  • Norman

    Bear with me here please.

    I’m glad to see you are edging a little more away from the “Literalist” approach by Paul. I’ve always thought that was your weakest point in the whole Paul/Adam discussion. I also don’t completely buy your argument/ conclusion that “the Spirit inspired Paul to understand Adam figuratively”. I believe Paul was a product of second Temple literature and the Jews already had a history of playing around with the Adam character and utilizing him to develop theological positions. See Enoch, Jubilees and other second Temple writings.

    I think Paul therefore was simply expressing a concept of Adam as a federal head of Israel (Paul calls Adam a type of Christ is a pretty strong indication of this concept in Rom 5:14) and not of humanity at large, a careful reading of Jubilees chp 3 illustrates this concept had already been developed by the Jews at least a century or two before Paul. Adam is predominately a story of God’s covenant people and that is not an inclusive or Universal appropriation of all humanity but fits the pattern of Israel’s exclusive history as they would contemplate it. However Paul brings all humanity into Israel via his discussion in Romans 9-11 where “faithful Gentiles” are added in to the “covenant” of redeemed Israel.

    So Paul is not really a literalist because that wasn’t always the predominate interpretative method of choice for various Messiah seeking Jews as evidenced by their Midrash approach for centuries; IMHO. Paul was naturally reflecting an exclusive covenant concept and Paul’s idea of “death (spiritual not biological)” coming to all men because all sinned is a covenant ideology (ancient) and not a biological one (modern). All men died spiritually not biologically because the Covenant Priest Head was dead spiritually (think corrupt Priest performing the annual Jewish atonement). Until one moves off the biological and literal reading of Paul I think one will continue to go down the wrong path in understanding Paul. Paul in Romans 7 actually anthropomorphizes Adam and Israel upon himself should also shed light on how loose Paul plays with these concepts.

    The book of Genesis is also quite possibly a product of second Temple literature and we already have very good accounts of how those Jews interfaced with it extensively (again Enoch and Jubilees) and that interaction definitely was not from a literalist approach by and large. The problem is that we don’t give much credence to those works because we have relegated those pieces of literature to second rate status due to later Jews having an aversion to their heavy messianic appropriations. We can tell they influenced the NT writers by their quotes and many allusions found in the NT itself because they were highly messianic people, 🙂 duh! The Later Jews were obviously not because they did not like the implication of that literature for what just happened to their second Temple.

  • Sheri

    Real curiosity vs. the need to control things by defining them and defending an “opinion,” is how we are blessed with the Truth. It is the essence of free will. If God told us everything in one fell swoop, we would be God and as Jesus said, only God is good, meaning only God is God. Without our souls, and curiosity, we are robots. Like Esther, we must have the courage to approach the King and ask. By Satan’s brainwashing and rules, we shall be squashed for “bothering” the King. But in reality, we will be given half his kingdom for having the courage to approach. The root word for courage means “heart.” Jesus meditated and spent as much time alone as possible. He woke up before every else did just so he could. In fact, “being” with God alone, as much as possible, is probably the best way to “love our brothers.” If we did so, we’d understand a lot more and argue a lot less. As for the Adam argument, we all have Adam in us, and Eve in us (cell divisions gotta start somewhere). When we needed anything more than God, we fell. Jacob’s dream was about DNA, which amazingly looks like a ladder, and it’s the way we descend and ascend from His presence. Big Bang? Let there be light. Voila! He was here in the beginning. If we sought God instead of defending our “self” by defending some shallow argument, He’d set us straight, as he did Job. Most of us though? We’re too busy being Job’s “friends” to hear God’s voice. And yes, for even reading this blog and writing this, I am being Job’s “friend” as well. To argue that the truth is in the ink is to limit God to physical ink and wood (what most paper is). Only a personal relationship with God, and constant yet reverent curiosity, can reveal what that ink is saying. Now back to asking God (the real Source of all knowledge, without which the Bible and it’s human writers wouldn’t exist) then meditating……

    • I would add that you could view Adam and Eve as homo Erectus if you want to see them as ancestors of the whole human kind.

  • Norman

    I would also like to submit these thoughts about the historicity of Adam. I seriously doubt that the Jews when they compiled Genesis could effectively identify the Adam character as what we would deem a credentialed historical individual. However I don’t believe that rules out that Adam didn’t represent a quasi-historical figure no matter how shadowy and archetypical his name represented. Here’s the logic of my conclusion.

    The Jews believed they had a historical heritage and I don’t think we can deny that reality. If they had a heritage then they had some sort of concepts of its origins; even though these stories change quickly with the passage of time and the figures become murky. Many of the Biblical names are representative names that denote and foster narrative concepts, therefore many if not all of the Patriarch characters would fall into that realm. Adam after all is a descriptive name that adds to the story line to allow for concepts to be carried along.

    There is a verse in Genesis 4:26 that says at the beginning of Adam’s progeny was when people begin to call on the name of YHWH. This is important because the writer is placing a signpost right next to Adam’s covenant progeny beginnings, identifying them exclusively with Israel via the name of YHWH. Later writers including Paul I believe pickup on Adam as a priestly representative in some form or fashion. That is not your run of the mill pagan religious Gentile by any stretch from the Jewish perspective. He was one of them.

    It makes sense to say that the writers of Genesis constructed almost all of their stories using mythical ancient characters often borrowed from other ancient story lines. They then changed the story to meet their theological intentions that generally had underlying overt political ramifications for Israel almost exclusively built around the concept of deliverance via a Messiah figure. Evangelicals brought up on understanding the Bible to be without defect and literal are going to have trouble coming to terms with this revelation. However after they work through the emotional process of their lost naiveté then they will be able to start the serious work of attempting to grasp how the Spirit of God drove these processes that are not clean and cut and dry as they would like their cake to be sliced and eaten too.

    In ancient times the people depended upon the Priest and Scribes to do their religious thinking for them. Not much has changed. Today we depend upon similarly trained guides to instruct us also, the problems is that many if not all us bear baggage with us that paints a different color of what was being painted by those ancient scribes and prophets. However they all typically were in one accord that Israel needed a change and the Messiah figure was to usher it in. That concept of deliverance permeated hundreds of years of Israel’s existence culminating in Christ the Messiah. Now that’s a Spirit led revelation I can sink my teeth into. 🙂
    Christ the Last Adam!

  • Excellent stuff, like always on this blog 🙂

    I believe that the non-existence of a first couple considerably undermines the doctrine that God cursed the whole mankind with a sinful nature because two persons ate the wrong apple.
    To me this is a good news because this teaching is nothing more than a blasphemous non-sense .

    As I argued, it cannot be found at all in the book of Genesis, and it is debatable whether or not Paul holds to an embryonic form of it.

    I have a high view of Paul and defend him when he is unjustly criticized by non-Christians and completely agree he does not have to be inerrant in order to be an extraordinary man of God.

    Denying this would be utterly silly if one thinks on C.S. Lewis or John Wesley.

    • Lotharson, I agree. This IS good news! I also agree with you about Paul.

      • Yep! This doctrine of a sinful nature has paralyzed Western Christianity for too long and has hampered moral progress, both on an individual and societal level.

  • I should also add that one can believe in a first couple if one is willing to view them as homo erectus.

    The problem would be the gap of millions of years in the Genesis record.

  • James

    Some would say Paul could rise about the literalists of his day and speak figuratively because “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” And he would certainly know which viewpoints to inspire, how and when! But I think the ‘figurativist’ versus literalist debate is largely a modern concern. Yes, ancients were also concerned about truth telling but their universe was populated differently than our scientific one, according to the level of knowledge they had at the time. Happily, the Holy Spirit can operate within the sphere of human knowledge and experience at all levels and times.

  • Kaleb Penner

    This is the book you need to read if you are interested in this subject. It is short. It is relevant. It is fantastic.