Book Plunge: Four Views on the Historical Adam

What did I think of this counterpoints book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

A friend sent me this wanting to see what I thought of it. He also figured I’d eat it up since I am a major fan of the work of John Walton. In that case, he is entirely correct and it’s not a shock that in my eyes, Walton did indeed deliver.

I will say also that at this point, I do believe the case for a historical Adam is far stronger than the case against. At the same time, I am not ready to make the belief in the existence of Adam a point of salvation. Salvation is based on belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is not based on belief in Adam.

The one essay in the book that argued against a historical Adam, that of Denis Lamoureux’s, also contained a wonderful story about his coming to Christ and it’s apparent throughout the work that he has a great love for Jesus Christ and a high regard for Scripture.

In reviewing this book, I’d like to look at in order the essays that I found most persuasive and why.

It is not a shock that I found Walton’s to be the most persuasive. Since reading The Lost World of Genesis One, I have been amazed by Walton and that book has forever shaped the way I read Genesis. Naturally, I have a great admiration as well for the book he co-wrote with Brent Sandy called The Lost World of Scripture.

Walton argues that Adam is the archetype of humanity. The text does not say anything about if Adam was the first human or if he was the only one at the time before Eve was created, but it does argue that he is the one who is the representative of us all. Walton also argues that the text says nothing about the material origins of man but rather a statement such as being dust refers to our mortality. He also argues that God did not really perform divine surgery but that the text is written in a way to show that Adam realized Eve was of the same nature as he was and was meant to be his helpmate.

The argument is impressive, but I would like to have seen some other points. For instance, I would have liked to have seen more about his view of the Garden of Eden itself, though I realize that that was not the scope of the book, it would have helped explain the relation between Adam and Eve more in their historical context. Also, the biggest pushback in the counter essays to Walton was on his view of the firmament in day two and this wasn’t really addressed. I know his view has become more nuanced since The Lost World of Genesis One was published and I would have liked to have seen more on that.

The second essay I found most persuasive was that of C. John Collins. Collins comes from an old-earth perspective more along to the lines of what one might see from Reasons To Believe. I found Walton did make a case for how his view would fit consistently.

Yet at the same time, I wondered about some aspects of his essay. Did he really make a case for reading Genesis as he suggested to refute the young-earth position, especially since one scholar in the book is a young-earth creationist? I did not see that presented enough. I also did find his essay contained more concordism than I would have liked.

The next on the list is Denis O. Lamoureux who argued that Adam did not exist. I found it amazing to see that Lamoureux did hold to a high view of Scripture in fact proclaiming his belief that it was inerrant. His case was a fascinating one for no Adam and he did seek to bring into play the NT evidence as well.

Yet I found myself wondering if this was really necessary. The genealogies and other such arguments do lead me to the position of a historical Adam. I do not see how Lamoureux’s position does in fact explain the origin of sin in the world and the problem of evil. Still, it is worth seeing what that side has to say.

The least convincing to me was that of William D. Barrick who argued for a young-earth and a historical Adam. It is not because I hold a disdain for YECs. My ministry partner is a YEC. My wife is a YEC. I do have a problem with dogmatic YECs however, and that includes someone dogmatic in most any secondary position. I would have just as much a problem with a dogmatic OEC.

Barrick too often was pointing to Inerrancy and seeing Scripture as the Word of God as support of His position and agreeing with what God has said. Now naturally, every Christian should want to agree with what God has said, but your interpretation might not be what God has said. This is built on the idea sadly that the Bible was written for the context of a modern American audience. I do not see this.

I have also seen firsthand the damage that is done by assuming that if you believe in Inerrancy, then you must believe in a certain interpretation of Scripture. I would not argue against a Jehovah’s Witness, for instance, that he denies Inerrancy, even though he denies essential tenets of the Christian faith. I would argue against his interpretation. Inerrancy says nothing about what the content of Scripture specifically is. It only says that whatever the content is, that when Scripture affirms something, it affirms it truly.

Also, Barrick did not make any arguments for a young Earth that I saw from a scientific perspective. Now he might discount this as man’s reason and such, but I would have liked to have seen something. I do not think these arguments work since I am not YEC, but I still would have liked to have seen them.

After all, if we are going to just simply say “We don’t need man’s reason” then my reply to that is “Then I do not need to read Barrick.” I do not need to go to his seminary and sit in his class and learn from him. I do not need to go to a church service and hear a pastor speak. I have everything I need with just myself.

Yet I will not be the one who thinks that the Holy Spirit has only guided me into truth and everyone else is just ignorant.

Sadly in many ways, it comes across as just a self-righteous and holier than thou approach to argumentation. I do not think that that is at all conducive to good debate and discussion and while of course the case of Scripture is supreme, there is no harm in looking at extra-Biblical sources. The Bible was not written in a vacuum and we dare not proclaim there is a cleft between the book of Scripture and the book of nature.

The book ends with essays by Greg Boyd and Philip Ryken with Boyd arguing that Adam is not an essential to the faith and Ryken saying that if we don’t have a historical Adam, then Christianity is seriously undermined.

Frankly, I see Ryken’s argument as a kind of paranoia in Christians that if you take this one step, then everything goes down from there. I do not see the argument that if there is no Adam, there is no original sin and thus no need of a savior. If I need to see original sin, I just need to turn on the evening news and see that there is a need for a savior. If I want to see if Christianity is true, I look and see if Jesus is risen. I find it bizarre to think that we could say “Yeah. Jesus came and died and rose from the dead, but Adam didn’t exist so Christianity is false.” I can’t help but think of what G.K. Chesterton said in Orthodoxy:

“If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.”

I highly recommend this volume as an important work on an important question. While I do not think this is a salvation question, I do think this is an important one and one worth discussing.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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7 Responses to “Book Plunge: Four Views on the Historical Adam”

  1. Bunto Skiffler Says:

    [NPeters] “Salvation is based on belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is not based on belief in Adam….Frankly, I see Ryken’s argument as a kind of paranoia in Christians that if you take this one step, then everything goes down from there. I do not see the argument that if there is no Adam, there is no original sin and thus no need of a savior. If I need to see original sin, I just need to turn on the evening news and see that there is a need for a savior.”

    So much for biblical authority, eh Nick?

    -b

    ps. And don’t you feel a little sorry for the snake too?

  2. tildeb Says:

    Why doesn’t population genetics offer clear evidence to a founding couple (Adam can’t populate on his own, after all) rather than a population bottleneck as low as about 1200 and a variance of up to about 50,000 – 70,000 years between our oldest male and female ancestors? (The possibility for them living at the same time in the same place is extraordinarily low.) The evidence should be clear and present to one man mating with one woman if the claim for a founding couple is to have any historical justification whatsoever. Yet it clearly doesn’t… without having to rewrite a brand new genetics model that works better than the one we currently use.

  3. Ronald Dupree (@rgdupree2) Says:

    Hi Nick,

    I enjoy your blog and podcast. You do a really great job.

    If you’re not already familiar with it, you may appreciate Mike Heiser’s review of the book.
    http://michaelsheiser.com/TheNakedBible/2014/01/comments-views-historical-adam-reviews/

    Also, related to the origin of sin issue that you mentioned, I’ve found Mike’s posts on Romans 5:12 to be quite worth reading (whether you agree with him or not):
    http://michaelsheiser.com/TheNakedBible/romans-512/

    Keep up the great work!

  4. apologianick Says:

    Hi Tilde. I would refer to those who are trained in both theology and science to answer those kinds of questions. I’m not a scientist so I choose to not comment on scientific matters as they require training outside of my expertise and something that I could neither defend nor refute. I am sure Walton might have more to say about this in The Lost World of Adam and Eve when those come out, though you might enjoy Lamoureux’s thoughts in the book I reviewed.

  5. apologianick Says:

    Hi Ronald, I did enjoy what I read and found it interesting. I also appreciate your reading the blog and listening to the podcast! Thanks for the links!

  6. JB Says:

    Good review, Nick. My own position would fall somewhere between Lamoureux’s and Walton’s – but even though I’d technically lean toward siding with Lamoureux, I know from reading some of their other work that I quite dislike how Lamoureux gets there. Not sure how Lamoureux pursued his case in this work, but in his longer treatments, he comes across as some sort of Evangelical Bultmannian whose reductionistic approach to the “Messages” in Genesis 1-3 would cause us to miss out on most of the profound theological contributions of those chapters. (Reading Lamoureux was so bad that it almost made me a YEC again!) I imagine Walton, with his very strong background in ANE studies, is significantly stronger on that front.

  7. In Defense of Craig Blomberg | Deeper Waters Says:

    […] a position like that of Lamoureux in "Four Views on the Historical Adam" which I reviewed here. It won’t work to say “Inerrancy, therefore the position is false.” Geisler has […]

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