Saturday, March 08, 2014

Book Review: Four Views on the Historical Adam

Editors Matthew Barrett and Ardel B. Caneday offer yet another installment in Zondervan’s Counterpoints series.  This one is on the historicity of Adam with essays by Denis O. Lamoureux, John Walton, C. John Collins, and William D. Barrick.

Lamoureux kicks off the discussion with his evolutionary creation view and the rejection of a historical Adam.  He sums up his beliefs saying, “the Father, Son and Holy Spirit created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligent design-reflecting natural process” (37). The author dismisses scientific concordism, that is, the assumption that the facts of science align with the Bible.  He asserts that statements in Scripture about nature are from an ancient phenomenological perspective and that “Holy Scripture makes statements about how God created living organisms that never in fact happened” (46).  Does this mean that God lied?  No, he says.  It means that “the Holy Spirit used the biology-of-the-day as an incidental vessel to reveal inerrant spiritual truths” (57).

It follows, Lamoureux says, that since ancient science does not align with physical reality, Adam never existed.  As for New Testament references to him, the author notes that passages such as that in Matt. 19:4-6, in which Jesus refers to Adam and Eve in a discussion of marriage, present “an archetype of what God intended to be” (60).  He suggests that “Jesus was accommodating to the Jewish belief of the day that Adam was a real person” (60).

John Walton sees Adam and Eve as real people in a real past, but asserts that they are archetypal figures who represent all of humanity.  Therefore, as he sees it, the second chapter of Genesis is not making claims about the biological origins of humankind and, for this reason, should not be seen as being in opposition to science.  For example, God’s formation of Adam from dust, when viewed archetypally, speaks of our mortality and nothing more.

By the same token, the creation of Eve is not to be taken literally.  Walton suggests that “God put Adam into a deep sleep to show him in a vision something about the nature and identity of the woman to whom he is about to introduce to him” (97).  Additionally, her role as mother does not demand a biological or genetic role if viewed archetypally.  New Testament mentions of the couple are also to be interpreted in light of their archetypal role.

C. John Collins presents an argument for an old-earth creation that sees Adam as a historical figure.  He begins his essay by defining history as “a way of referring, of talking about events in the real world” (147).  He suggests that a variety of literary types can recount history using its own conventions, and cites Psalm 105, in which events of the exodus are recalled, as an example.  Because of this, it is perfectly acceptable for an account of history to include figurative and imaginary elements.  It does not, he asserts, have to be told in complete detail or in chronological sequence to be trustworthy.

Collins notes that we have to look at more than just the similarity in DNA between chimps and humans to assess our origins.  He says we must look at those aspects of human existence that are universally and uniquely human, such as language and art, to see the differences – differences not just in degree, but in kind.

He borrows from Francis Schaeffer and suggests that we are free to develop “a range of reasonable scenarios that address the apparent conflicts between the Bible and the sciences with certain limitations” (165)  He does so himself, ultimately concluding that “Christ’s view of Scripture should be our view” (174).  If Christ saw Adam as a real person, so should we.

William D. Barrick presents the traditional view of the historical Adam and Young-Earth Creation.  He asserts that Adam is the originator of the entire human race and is a single individual, not an archetype or the product of biological evolution.  He notes that, “to read Genesis 1 and 2 as presenting him as an archetype without reference to his material formation resembles allegorical interpretations of the text” (198).  He offers eight “theological aspects” that depend on the historicity of Adam and Eve including our understanding of the origin and nature of sin.

Barrick’s argument ultimately rests on the reliability of God.  Since there was no one there to witness his creation of the world, he must have given the account himself to Moses and he cannot lie.  Where other people attempt to assess Genesis in the light of science and creation stories from other Ancient Near Eastern religions, Barrick asserts that the accuracy of the scriptural account does not depend on confirmation from extrabiblical sources and that acceptance of them “denigrates the biblical record and treats it with skepticism rather than as prima facie evidence” (226).

He also notes that a theocentric or theological emphasis does not mean that a record lacks historicity as some have contended and lists seven features of the narrative, borrowed from Old Testament Scholar Gordon Wenham, that indicate the creation account is more “historical than paradigmatic” (212).

All of the authors critique each other’s essays.  Then each provides a rejoinder in response to those critiques.  In some cases, they repeat what they have said in their own chapters, but they also offer new information and guide the reader in viewing the material analytically.

The book concludes with reflections from two pastor-theologians who discuss the issues in practical terms for those of us who sit in the pews.  Gregory A. Boyd insists that, with or without a real Adam, our faith is secure.  He recounts his personal experience as a young Christian humiliated in a university course in evolutionary biology that caused him to lose his faith, something he got back through reading the works of C. S. Lewis.  He eventually reconciled his religious and scientific beliefs, deciding that whether Adam was a real man or not was non-essential.

Philip G. Ryken disagrees with Boyd as he asserts that we cannot understand the world or our faith without a real historical Adam.  He examines the man’s place in Scripture, his importance to church doctrines and what his existence means in the everyday life of the average Christian.

All the authors in this book, no matter what their beliefs regarding Adam, profess a great love of the Lord and his Word.  This is evident in the respectful way they treat this controversial issue and in the polite and positive manner in which they interact with each other’s material.  They write with passion, clarity and power.  One need not be a scholar to grasp their arguments, and for those looking to embark upon a study of the historical Adam, this would be a great starting point.  Those well-versed in the subject will appreciate having the information presented in such an intellectually vigorous manner.  Therefore, Four Views on the Historical Adam is highly recommended.

Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Mary Lou is a Canadian journalist who has just completed her Masters in Theological Studies. She writes fiction, poetry and plays as well as non-fiction.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the review.

I have a question. Does Lamoureux draw out any exegetical criterion for arriving at the conclusion that some persons or events are historical (e.g., Abraham, the exodus) and some are not (e.g., Adam, the fall)? Let's say, for instance, that I want to throw out Abraham as a historical person and the exodus as a historical event. God didn't lie to anyone, because God used these fictions to reveal inerrant spiritual truths. (Incidentally, I don't think whether something reveals a spiritual truth or not is germane to whether it's a lie or not, but whatever.) Does Lamoureux provide us with grounds for rejecting such a position?

BallBounces said...

Remington: good question. I haven't read the book, but I assume it would be a) what would be to the Western mind the crushing scientific evidence for evolutionary processes, and b) the spiritual artifacts -- snake, tree of life, tree of knowledge of good and evil -- present in the Gen-2 narrative. Possibly a third -- the literary form of Gen 2 as "exalted prose" (a quasi-poetry).

Unknown said...


Thanks for the suggestions. (a) isn't exegetical. I'm skeptical that (b) wouldn't undercut any supernatural or perceived-as-odd phenomena (I'm sure we can come up with a long list in the Abraham character or the exodus event).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this review; I'm actually reading this very book and working on a review right now

MaryLou said...

Remington B wrote: "Does Lamoureux draw out any exegetical criterion for arriving at the conclusion that some persons or events are historical (e.g., Abraham, the exodus) and some are not (e.g., Adam, the fall)?"

That is an excellent question indeed. RKBall has hit the nail on the head when he suggests that it is the scientific evidence for evolutionary processes that is the driving force behind Lamoureux’s take on Genesis.

Lamoureux makes a point of saying that too many people today read the creation account with a modern phenomenological perspective instead of an ancient one and, therefore, practise eisegesis rather than exegesis, and he criticizes that (47). Yet one could easily make the case that Lamoureux himself is engaging in eisegesis by interpreting the events in Genesis in light of modern beliefs about evolution.

He states the following about the origin of humankind: “In the eyes of the ancients, living organisms were immutable . . . . Biological evolution was not a consideration, because fossil records and evolutionary genetics had yet to be discovered . . . .“ (56).

Therefore, he asserts, given their beliefs, they could not have correctly conceptualized the origin of life. They saw that goats begat goats, etc., and, working backwards through time, he says they would have come to the logical conclusion that there must have been an original pair of goats that God created.

He says this “retrojection” applies to human beings, too. They saw people giving birth to human babies and would have believed there had been an original man and woman just as there had been an original billy and nanny goat -- hence, the belief in Adam and Eve.

Lamoureux states that “real history in the Bible begins roughly around Genesis 12 with Abraham" (44). He says he believes that Abraham, David, Jesus, etc. were all real people, that the gospels report eyewitness events, that the miracles they report actually happened and that Christ physically rose from the dead. It's only Adam and Eve who he says weren't actual human beings and it is his scientific beliefs that dictate that conclusion.

To veritasdomain: I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did. It didn't change my mind about what I believe about Genesis, but it did make me understand the varying viewpoints better.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the detailed response, MaryLou.

MaryLou said...

No problems, Remington B. Thanks for your interest.

Charles E. Harris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles E. Harris said...

I am currently reading this book (just started the last essay by the YEC, Barrick). I I concur that Lamoureux does not escape the caution he gives to others about not letting eisegesis intrude.

But, I take it he would qualify that the presentations of this book ought not to be mere exegesis of Genesis, but on the broader question of Adam's "historicity".

He therefore (it seems to me) concludes based on a convergence of evolutionary anthropology and the presence idealistic and idyllic language (my description) in Gen 1-11 that Adam was not a historical person.

I agree that Gen. 1-11 is a "different" sort of literary environment from chap 12 ff., but this doesn't necessarily mean it is nonhistorical. It only means what history there is, is conveyed in a rhetorically distinctive manner.

Even if one accepts that there were pre-Adamic hominids, it would have no bearing on whether Adam was a "real" person, only that he wasn't the "first" person.

The right answer (or, a goodly portion of it) I think lies somewhere at the convergence of Walton's and Collin's essay.

Charles E. Harris said...

Kyle, thanks for the interesting reply. I will look into Ron Choong. Relevant related books, but not Adam's historicity per se, are:

Dealing with the subject of pre-fall animal death, specifically, and what constitutes "very good", more generally:

Peril in Paradise: Theology, Science, and the Age of the Earth

Dealing some with the federal headship of Adam, and covenantal & eschatological nature of the first three chapters of Genesis, is:

Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis with the Christ of Eschatology

MaryLou said...

Thank you, gentlemen, for those additional thoughts and for reading suggestions.

Collins did several podcasts for Straight Thinking awhile back. They can be accessed through iTunes or here:

There's also a discussion about it with Albert Mohler at the Gospel Coalition which is available through iTunes.

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