N.T. Wright & Pete Enns Agree: Adam is Israel in Exile!

N.T. Wright & Pete Enns Agree: Adam is Israel in Exile! February 3, 2012

If you haven’t read my review of Pete Enns’ The Evolution of Adam, you might check that out first and then come back here.  In this video, N.T. Wright states the same thing that Pete Enns argues: Israel’s being taken away in Exile is a recapitulation of Adam being cast out of the Garden.  For a fuller treatment of this, see this Biologos article. I would venture to say that N.T. Wright would lean a bit more toward the text being originally about humanity in general than Pete Enns would, but either way they agree on how the text functioned leading up to the time of Jesus.

What do you think?  Might Pete Enns and Tom Wright be on to something here?

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  • I think you have gotten Tom Wright’s statement backwards. He didn’t say that the Adam narrative is a recapitulation of the Exile. He said that post-Exile Jews would have seen their own story as a recapitulation of the Adam narrative.

  • I think
    it highly plausible that the whole book of Genesis is a storied account that
    takes in the origins traditions of the Hebrew community and ancient near east,
    but shaped in a way as to speak into the exilic and post-exilic community. Some
    see this proposal, which would entail edits-updates-reshaping at a later time, as
    detrimental to “God’s Word” and the Christian faith. They might argue
    passages like Deut 4:2; 12:32; Prov 30:6; Rev 22:18-19. But I think it quite
    easy to notice actual edits/updates in the text, and God did not micro-manage
    His people as to want to smite them for such edits-updates, not to mention that the
    usual quoted verses above don’t have a full Scripture canon in
    view like we have today. They are rather speaking directly into the context of
    God’s word coming into the Hebrew community at a particular point – “don’t add
    to what God is saying to you right now.” So I think it very interesting to consider that Genesis is shaped in a way to speak powerfully into the exilic and post-exilic community. I think Walter Brueggemann also posits this, but I still have his OT text sitting on my desk to read this year.

    • I tend to lean toward a view that the Genesis narratives were initially compiled in the early monarchy period (c. 1000-900 BCE) and redacted from time to time. There is a major redaction toward the end of the Judahite period (c. 700-650 BCE) as well as the reiteration in Deuteronomy.

      When you don’t treat the Adam narrative as a scientific text, you can see that it would speak into pretty much any context of ancient Hebrew history – monarchy, exile, and of course the first century Judaism that Jesus stepped into. For this reason, I have a problem narrowing it to a post-exile period. It is much bigger than that, although the form we have it in today was certainly somewhat influenced by the events of the Exile.

  • Chuck McKnight

    Good for N.T. Wright and Peter Enns. Unfortunately, Jesus and Paul disagree. I’ll stand with them instead.

    • Scot McKnight is also blogging on Enns’ new book. McKnight always has solid thoughts on “controversial” topics.

      Chuck – I might say that we think Jesus and Paul are saying something else, but this view posited by Enns, McKnight, Wright, Brueggemann, Sparks, and others is not incompatible with the statements of Jesus and Paul in the NT, at least if we keep in mind some things. We have to consider that authorship in the ancient near east meant something different than what we call authorship in our modern world today. So for a Jew to refer to the Pentateuch as “Moses” or that “Moses wrote” would carry a bit different meaning back then. The Pentateuch is centred in and finds its authoritative message in Moses, the great prophet and receiver of God’s law. But it does not necessarily mean he penned every word.

      • Chuck McKnight

        I follow Scott’s blog as well, but I’m not concerned with what he has to say either when he contradicts the Scriptures (even if he does happen to share my last name).

        I’m also not quite so concerned with the idea that Moses wrote every single word of the Pentateuch. I think it is quite possible that he fulfilled the role of “general editor,” compiling together accounts originally recorded by others—possibly Adam, Abraham, etc. Then Joshua likely completed the work after Moses died. As such, Moses could still easily be considered the “author” of the work as a whole. Of course ultimately we know that the author was God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and thus the entire work is without error, regardless of which human instruments penned it.

        Furthermore, Paul unequivocally treated Adam as a real man and the literal first person from whom all others came.

        “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.” (Acts 17:26, NASB)

        “It was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.” (1 Timothy 2:13)

        “‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” (1 Corinthians 15:45)

        “Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, … death reigned from Adam until Moses, … by the transgression of the one the many died … through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:12, 15, 19)

        There is no room for interpretation here. Paul clearly considered Adam to be the literal first human. Furthermore, he said that Adam is directly tied into the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so to deny the historicity of Adam is to preach a different Gospel.

        We have only two options. Either Adam was real, or Paul was wrong. You can’t have it any other way.

        [By the way, I’m taking for granted here that Paul wrote Acts. You can disagree on that point if you like, but the point still stands. Whoever penned it did so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and thus cannot be in error.]

        • @google-f38f10e5ab87878cc3090f66881b54c7:disqus … I appreciate your zeal for Scripture… but, and I know that you wont agree… I think Answers in Genesis is less biblical than McKnight and Pete Enns.  Selective literalism and imposing a static grid that results from modernist plain sense meanings are an invention of post-enlightenment thought.  In the centuries leading up to Jesus and in Jesus’ day itself, we know historically that the People of God did not read the bible with the grid you are imposing on it.  I’d invite you to consider reading one book: Scripture and the Authority of God, by NT Wright.

          • Chuck McKnight

            I will add it to my ever-increasing reading list. Thanks for the suggestion.

          • That reminds me. I really need to finish Scripture and the Authority of God. I did start it, but I got distracted. I’ve enjoyed what I read of it so far though.

        • Paul didn’t know any differently. However, the point isn’t whether or not Paul knew if Adam was literal or not – the point is that even Paul knew that the OT was written as symbols for spiritual instruction (see his treatise on Sarah and Hagar – surely his concern had nothing whatsoever to do with the literal existence of these two women, but rather what the story teaches us about spiritual things.)

          • Hi Heather — I think Chuck, who commented three years ago, is now more open to these things 🙂

          • Wow. It’s weird to re-read my own comments from three years ago. A lot has changed. I’m not going to get into this debate again, but suffice it to say that I don’t hold my views nearly so tightly any more.

          • Exactly what I said about you 🙂

          • Ha! We must have been typing at the same time. 🙂

  • Chuck (it wasn’t allowing me to post underneath your comment) –

    You said: I think it is quite possible that he fulfilled the role of “general editor,” compiling together accounts originally recorded by others—possibly Adam, Abraham, etc.

    Just something to ponder – Whereas something that McKnight, Enns, etc, sounds like conjecture, I would also posit that these statements are just as much conjecture.

    I think we try to hard to dot our i’s and cross our t’s on our theology of Scripture, in the sense that tries to defend a specific position. It might as well be as your exactly stated above. But I sense that too many evangelicals posit these kind of statements because they think it is the position that honours God and Scripture most, helping undergird our modern ideas of inerrancy, etc. The canon of Scripture came to us much more fluidly and organically.

    And I would encourage us that, if what a McKnight or Enns or Wright or Brueggemann or Sparks puts forth were considered, it doesn’t negate the God-breathed and authoritative nature of Scripture. That’s what I believe we are a bit fearful of, and fear-driven theology to maintain a particular perspective will never serve the church nor the world too greatly. We think that if this were true, then it destroys our Christian faith, the character of our God and nature of Scripture. But I believe that to be over-reactionary and unfounded. We want to say that is what would happen if these things were true and I sense God standing back and saying, “Bride, I’m not here micro-managing the Scriptures. I’m not here smacking people for edits and updates and reshapings. I’m not here holding to an inerrancy of the “original autographs”, since I didn’t have them preserved. I’m doing something much more life-giving and life-breathing than this.”

  • James

    I agree with this idea.  I was first introduced to it in book, “The Evangelical Universalist”, by Gregory McDonald, which uses the idea of Adam as Israel in Exile as a major building block for his thesis.

  • jacobz

    I think it’s important to note that Enns’ point is that Israel came first and Adam was written later to incorporate what they knew to be true about themselves as primordial history. Adam is a posthoc story about the nation’s history, not humanity in general.
    So then Israel is Adam, NOT Adam is Israel.
    Did you see this?  http://biologos.org/blog/adam-is-israel

    • @8e2489e8e6d41f2f43624c99aa8ca30e:disqus … your distinction is almost right, but not quite.  Pete views the Adam story as the older of the two creation stories… predating the exilic period.  It functioned as a “wisdom” story, and in its final form as an “Israel” / exile story.  I wonder if you read the review I wrote for his book the “Evolution of Adam” yesterday.  This video was connected to that particular post.  The article you list in your comment only scratches the surface of Pete’s view as it is laid out in the book.  Here’s the review and consider reading the book.  Its really quite excellent.  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2012/02/02/evolving-with-enns-reflections-on-the-evolution-of-adam/

  • I would not trust NT Wright’s anti-Jewish theology about Israel:


  • Johnny Walker

    Kurt, you ought to read a recent book by Seth Postell, a student of John Sailhamer, who argues exactly this, but with great thoroughness and persuasion. Adding much more to the discussion then has been proposed by both Enns and Wright. It is entitled Adam as Israel: Genesis 1-3 as the Introduction to the Torah and Tanakh.