Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns

Some have recently argued that evolution destroys the possibility of religious faith. Enns' goal in this book “is to focus solely on how the Bible fits into all of this.” (ix)
Regarding the title, he argues that our understanding of Adam has evolved. It must now be adjusted in the light of scientific evidence supporting evolution and literary evidence from the world of the Bible. He calls evolution a “game changer.” “If evolution is correct, we can no longer accept, in any sense of the word 'historical,' the instantaneous and special creation of humanity described in Genesis...” (xiv) Unless one just rejects scientific evidence, adjustments need to be made to the biblical story, he says. This book thinks through what sorts of adjustments those are.
The first part of the book looks at Genesis, the second part at Paul's writings.
Enns accepts the conclusions of biblical criticism (such as that the Pentateuch was not completed until the postexilic period). “There is good reason to believe that the Old Testament as a whole is fundamentally a postexilic document.” (32) The Creation and Fall of Adam can be seen as a parallel to Israel's history. This reading “supports the notion that Adam is the proto-Israelite rather than the first human.” (67) “Israel's creation stories are potent claims about who they were. Understanding those claims against the backdrop of the world in which they were written, in [Enns'] opinion, lays to rest any notion that these writings have any relevance to modern debates over human origins.” (34) The six days of creation reflect postexilic liturgical life. “The creation story was written with Israel's temple and the Sabbath rhythm in mind...” (73)
With Genesis seen in its context, Enns turns to Paul. It would appear that Paul regards Adam as the first human and ancestor of everyone who ever lived. Paul must be read in the context of the first century Jewish theological understanding and culture.
Enns argues that Adam need not be the first created human but can be understood as a hominid chosen by God somewhere in the evolutionary process to be the representative “head” of humanity. As Enns sees it, “...the scientific evidence we have for human origins and the literary evidence we have for the nature of ancient stories of origins are so overwhelmingly persuasive that belief in a first human, such as Paul understood him, is not a viable option.” (122) “By saying that Paul's Adam is not a historical first man, we are leaving behind Paul's understanding of the cause of the universal plight of sin and death. But this is the burden of anyone who wishes to bring evolution and Christianity together...” (123) Enns argues “that the uncompromising reality of who Jesus is and what he did to conquer the objectively true realities of sin and death do not depend on Paul's understanding of Adam as a historical person.” (122)
He writes, “the notion of “original sin,” where Adam's disobedience is the cause of a universal state of sin, does not find clear – if any – biblical support.” (125) He admits he does not have an answer to why humanity is in the condition of sin and death. That an answer cannot be provided, “does not mean that the scientific and archaeological data that raised the problem in the first place can be set to the side.” (126)
Enns uses recent theological writings (like the New Perspective on Paul) to argue his case. You'll have to read him yourself to evaluate his work.
Enns ends his book with a summary chapter, listing nine thesis, such as Thesis 1 Literalism is not an option.
Enns does not clain to have found the best path forward in this complex set of issues. He is offering perspectives for readers to begin exploring. (82) He offers a selective bibliography for the reader to do so.

I am one of those Enns mentions at the end of his book. “What makes some uncomfortable is that such a view of the Bible can open the door for all sorts of uncertainty, and most of all to questioning familiar ways of talking about God, the Bible, and much else.” (145) I guess I am committed to the supreme authority of the Bible in all theological matters. I guess I do want the Bible to be historically accurate. I guess I am not willing to leave much room for interpreting the bible in light of extrabiblical information.

Only time will tell, I suppose, whether we are at another Copernican revolution. Am I one of those hanging on the the earth being at the center of the universe (despite scientific evidence), so to speak, when I believe Adam was a historical person?

Peter Enns is senior fellow of biblical studies for The BioLogos Foundation, an organization that explores the integration of science and Christian faith. He has taught at Eastern University, Fuller theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary and is the author or editor of nine books. To find out more about why he wrote this book, go to:

You can read more on this subject and keep up with the dialogue at

Brazos Press (a division of Baker Publishing Group), 172 pages.
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