The last few years has seen an uptick in debates between creationist and evolutionists. But the debate has been within the church, not outside. If you have followed the news at all you will be aware that people on both sides of the debate are becoming more vocal.
One of the “sticking points” for some is the figure of Adam in the Bible. Was he an historical person? Some creationists insist he must have been, while those who follow evolutionary theory say that he was not. The debate might not have become an active one if Adam had stayed in Genesis. But his appearance in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 has led many to suggest that if Paul thought Adam was a historical person then so should we.
Wading bravely into this debate is Pete Enns with his recent volume The Evolution of Adam: What theBible Does and Doesn’t say about Human Origins (Brazos Press, 2012). Enns’ goal is to help his readers come to a new way of thinking about Adam in a world informed by evolution. This is not a book about evolution and if you are looking for someone to evaluate and weigh-in on the evolution vs. creationist debate then this book is not for you. Enns is convinced of the truth of the evolutionary theory and is not a seven day creationist. What Enns does do in the book is help his readers understand Genesis better and develop a more informed method for reading the Bible, specifically Genesis 1-3 and Romans 15.
The book is broken into two parts. In part one Enns focuses on Genesis and the function of the book in the history of ancient Israel. In part two he focuses on Paul and his references to Adam. Enns has packed a lot into this little book and I will not be able to do it justice here.
In part one the reader is given a brief overview of the impact that nineteenth century scholarship and archaeology has had on the study of the Old Testament (p. 6). These advancements helped scholars to discover the ancient context of Genesis including other, similar creation and flood stories from Mesopotamia. Enn’s demonstrates that when Genesis is viewed in the context of these other creation stories it is clear that the stories in Genesis 1-3 are not unique, but ubiquitous. But he also argues that we can’t simply interpret Genesis as “borrowing” from these other creation and flood stories. On the contrary, he describes Genesis as “genre calibration” (p. 35). In other words, Genesis is making statements about who the God of Israel is and the writer(s) of Genesis are using the genre of the day to make those statements, albeit with some important nuance. Enns understands the purpose of Genesis to be a declaration of who Israel’s God is and how Israel defines themselves in light of their understanding of God (p. 32). Genesis 1-3, he argues, is not about the origins of humanity but the origins of Israel. The story of Adam mirrors the story of Israel (creation, command, disobedience, exile/death) and Adam is in many ways a proto-Israel (pp.65-66). When read this way, Genesis 1-3 is not a story about the origins and failure of all humanity, but only of Israel.
In part two Enns begins by pointing out that what Paul does with Adam is largely unique in antiquity. Furthermore, Paul goes beyond Genesis with what he has to say about Adam (p. 81). The Old Testament has little to say about Adam after Genesis 5:3 (only mentioned again in 1 Chron 1:1) and does not look back on Genesis as a time when sin entered the world (p. 85-86). While the Old Testament has much to say about sin and death, it doesn’t connect it to Adam. Thus Paul’s turn to Adam is actually very new. The key to understanding what Paul is doing is to understand the way that he interprets the scriptures. Enns points out that Paul interprets the scriptures like other Jews of his day, which means that he was not objective and that he took advantage of any gaps or ambiguities in the text (see the examples on pp. 103-17). And Paul brings this method to his reading of the New Testament with the Christ event in mind. Thus Paul’s understanding of Adam in Genesis is through a Christ centered reading (p. 122). Paul understands the solution to humanity’s plight (sin and death) and reads it back into the Genesis Adam story (p. 131). If the last Adam, Christ, is the answer to sin and death then the first man, Adam, must have been the one who introduced it. Paul’s analogy between Adam and Christ connects the two together.
But what is important for Enns is not whether or not Paul believed in a historical Adam. If one no longer accepts Adam as historical, it doesn’t undermine Paul’s theology. The problem of death and sin still remains and the solution through Christ’s death and resurrection is still Paul’s answer to that problem (p. 123). Enns sums it up this way.
“So even without attributing their cause to Adam, sin and death are with us, and we cannot free ourselves from them. They remain foes vanquished by Christ’s death and resurrection. The fact that Paul draws an analogy between Adam and Christ, however, does not mean that we are required to consider them characters of equal historical standing. Unlike Adam, Christ was not a primordial, prehistorical man known only through hundreds and hundreds of years of cultural transmission. The resurrection of Christ was a present reality for Paul, an event that had happened in Jerusalem about twenty-five years before he wrote Romans.” (p 125)
The book closes with nine theses on how we should consider Adam today. Among some of what Enns argues is that (1) literalism is not an option, (2) that the Bible and science speak different languages and ask different questions, (3) that inspiration should embrace God’s use of cultural idioms, and (4) that a rapprochement between evolution and Christianity requires a synthesis, not just adding evolution to theology.
As I said above, Enns packs a lot into this thin volume and the nature of a blog post limits what I can say. I have nothing to offer by way of criticism because I by and large agree with him. No matter which side of the debate you find yourself this is a worthwhile read. Overall I think you will find this to be helpful, informative book that will help you to think in new ways about the function of Genesis and the place of Adam in that story. I think Enns has made a clear argument and if you are wondering about human origins and in particular about how to understand Genesis and Adam then this book is for you.
As I read the book it struck me that one of the best ways that this book could be read is as part of a small group or Sunday school class. The chapters are small and accessible. With a good leader I could see some fruitful if not challenging conversation coming from reading it. I highly recommend it.