fbpx

Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

More Recurring Mistakes in the Adam/Evolution Discussion (2)

The Bible for Normal People

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

We continue today with three more recurring mistakes in the Adam/evolution discussion.

Both Paul and the writer of Genesis thought Adam was a real person, the first man. Denying the historicity of Adam means you think you know better than the biblical writers.

As with the issues we looked at in my last post, phasing things this way has some rhetorical punch, but it simply sidesteps a fundamental interpretive challenge all of us need to address on one level or another.

All biblical writers were limited by their culture and time in how they viewed the physical world around them. This is hardly a novel notion of inspiration, and guiding lights of the church from Augustine to Calvin were quite adamant about the point.

A responsible, orthodox, doctrine of inspiration understands that the biblical authors were thoroughly encultured, ancient people, whom God used as ancient people to speak. Inspiration does not cancel out their “historical particularity.” God, by his Spirit, works within ancient categories to speak deep truth.

We do indeed “know more” than the biblical writers about some things. That in principle is not a theological problem. The problem is that this principle is now touching upon an issue that some feel is of paramount theological importance. The stakes have been raised in ways no one expected, for know we understand that the ancient biblical authors’ understanding of human origins is also part of their ancient way of thinking.

Should the principle be abandoned when it becomes theologically uncomfortable?

As I see it, the whole discussion is over how our “knowing more” about human origins can be in conversation with the biblical theological metanarrative. This the pressing theological challenge before us, and we really need to put our heads together—not insulate ourselves from the discussion.

Acknowledging that we know more than biblical writers about certain things is not to disrespect Scripture. We are merely recognizing that the good and wise God had far less difficulty condescending to ancient categories of thinking than some of us seem to be comfortable with.

Genesis as whole, including the Adam story, is a historical narrative and therefore demands to be taken as an historical account.

 

It is a common, but nevertheless erroneous, assumption that Genesis is a historical narrative.

Typically the argument is mounted on two fronts: (1) Genesis mentions people by name and says they are doing things and going places. That sounds like a sequence of events, and therefore is a “historical narrative.” (2) Genesis uses a particular Hebrew verbal form (waw consecutive plus imperfect, for you Hebrew geeks out there). That is the verbal form used throughout Old Testament narrative to present a string of events—so-and-so did this, then this, then went there and said this, then went there and did that.

Apparently, one is to conclude that a story that presents people doing things in a sequence is an indication that we are dealing with history. That may be the case, but the sequencing of events in a story alone does not in and of itself imply historicity. Every story, whether real or imagined, has people doing things in sequences of events.

To be clear, this does not mean that Genesis can’t be a historical narrative. It only means that the fact that Genesis presents people doing things in sequence is not the reason for drawing that conclusion.

The connection between Genesis and history is an complicated matter that many have pondered in great depth and that involves a number of factors. The issue certainly cannot be settled simply by reading the text of Genesis and observing that things happen in time.

Evolution is a different “religion” (i.e., “naturalism” or “Darwinism”) and therefore hostile to Christianity.

There is no question that for some, evolution functions as a different “religion,” hostile not only to Christianity but to any believe in a world beyond the material and random chance.

But that does not mean that all those who hold to evolution as the true explanation of human origins are bowing to evolution as a religion. Nor does it mean that evolutionary theory requires one to adopt an atheistic “naturalistic” or “Darwinistic” worldview.

Christian evolutionists—at least the ones I know—do not see their work in evolutionary science as spiritual adultery. Christian evolutionists take it as a matter of deep faith that evolution is God’s way of creating, the intricacies of which we cannot (ever) fully comprehend.

In other words, “evolution=naturalistic atheism,” although rhetorically appealing, is not an equation those Christians in the field make, and I think their convictions should be taken at face value, rather than suggesting that have been duped or are inconsistent Christians.

Get smarter about the Bible and stuff.

Get insider updates + articles + podcast + more.