This week, from 8/17 to 8/23, Baker is running an eBook special on The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Says and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.
Well? Why you’re still staring at this screen rather than click-clicking on the link above? Seriously, do I have to draw you a map or something?
Seriously, seriously, for those of you who are not familiar with the book, it is my approach to how Christians can and should move forward in stalled debate over evolution and Christian faith.
Evolution is true and cannot be ignored. But evolution cannot be simply grafted onto conventional evangelical Christian ways of understanding the Bible.
The real tension for evangelicals between Christianity and evolution isn’t simply the challenges presented by evolution—which are many—but how evangelicals understand the Bible.
Typically evangelical theology is seen as more or less the stable factor in the evolution/Christianity debate, with no need for re-examination. Evolution is the unstable factor that needs to be shaped and molded around that theology.
In The Evolution of Adam, I argue that the opposite is true. The real hindrance is this allegedly stable understanding of the Bible and to move forward the evangelical view of the Bible needs to be reexamined. In fact. evolution gives us a golden opportunity to do so.
I take on two big biblical issues that need to be rethought for there to be a true synthetic dialogue between Christian faith and evolution.
The first issue is about how to understand the Adam story in Genesis.
Rather than a more or less accurate account of some space-time event, which is a key evangelical assumption, the last several hundred years of biblical scholarship has shown that the Old Testament employs “origins” myths, common to other ancient cultures, in carving out its own ideological niche in the ancient world.
The Adam story is not a scientific account of the past, nor is it compatible with any current scientific conclusions about human origins. It is part of a story of Israel’s “self-definition” (which extends throughout the first 5 book of the Bible and the Old Testament as a whole) rather than an attempt to explain “where people come from.”
In other words, the story of Adam should not be read as the biblical explanation for human origins that must then be pitted against the scientific model to see which wins out. The two speak entirely different languages for different purposes.
There is no tension there, only one we create by imposing false expectations onto the story.
The second issue is about the apostle Paul in the New Testament and his understanding of the Adam story.
Adam is functionally a non-character in the Old Testament, popping up after Genesis 5 only in a genealogy in 1 Chronicles. But in the New Testament, specifically in the writings of Paul, Adam makes a robust appearance.
Simply put, for Paul—and influenced somewhat by other Jewish writers of his time period—Adam’s actions are the cause of a deep rift between God and all humanity, and that rift can only be healed through Jesus’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.
Paul even refers to Jesus as the “last” Adam contrasted to the first Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45).
For Paul’s argument to have any validity ( especially in Romans 5:12-21, ), as the evangelical argument goes, the first Adam has to be every but as much a flesh and blood man as the last Adam is.
In a nutshell, that is why we have so much tension among evangelicals over evolution. It’s not so much what we read about Adam in Genesis, but how Paul understands Adam in Genesis.
The entire gospel seems to depend on whether or not there was an actual Adam who broke the cosmos which then Jesus had to come fix—as Paul seems to argue.
Which brings me to my main point in part 2. Paul was an ancient Jewish thinker and reader of his Bible. In the Christian Bible we see this 1st century Jew interpreting the Adam story in a highly creative way, which was the manner of early Jewish interpreters at the time.
Paul stood squarely within Jewish tradition, and so his Bible was an open book with it’s deeper meanings waiting to be mined. Paul is giving us his take on what the Adam story means—or better, what it has come to mean for him as a follower of Christ.
The reality of Jesus drove him back to his Bible to seek creative readings.
Paul employs the Adam story not “objectively,” as modern readers might value, but as a means to a greater end.
Paul is arguing in Romans that Jesus is the messiah of both Jews and Gentiles—both peoples need Jesus equally and neither one is more valued by God than the other.
Paul makes his case throughout Romans that Jews and Gentiles are on the same footing before God, and in chapter 5 he employs his creative reading of the Adam story to further his case.
The true problem, Paul argues, is not specifically a Jewish problem of failure to obey Torah. The true problem is a universal one, going back to the first man. And God’s solution, though Christ, is to build one people of God made up of Jews and Gentiles on equal footing.
Paul’s handling of the Adam story is not what the story itself in Genesis says or even implies, but what it has come to mean in light of Jesus.
Anyway, as I’m sure you know, I can’t do justice to the book in a few sentences, but here is my bottom line:
If we understand how Genesis and Paul functioned in the ancient world—what they were getting at—we will see that they were not answering the scientific question “Where do people come from?” but the theological question “Who comprises the people of God?”
The story of Adam in Genesis and Paul’s use of that story are culturally shaped expressions of faith, and to expect them to address—let alone adjudicate— modern questions of human origins is to misread and undervalue these portions of scripture.
The gospel does not stand or fall on whether the Adam story is literally true, as some would have it.
[For more of my many posts on Adam and evolution, search “Adam” and/or click “Christianity and evolution” and “The Evolution of Adam” in the category list below. ]